An art specialist, art lawyer and artist discuss the impacts of sanctions on Iranian art.
A timely panel discussion hosted by Vastari tackles the topic of sanctions on Iranian art, from the price of art materials to restrictions on travel for Iranian artists.
On 30 October 2014, Vastari hosted a symposium entitled “The Axis Shifting East” to coincide with the opening of Asian Art in London. Of the three panel discussions, the third was titled “The Effect of Lifting Sanctions on Export of Art from Iran”. Speakers gave illuminating perspectives on the legal and practical implications of lifting sanctions on the export of art from Iran and the Gulf Area.
Established in 2012, Vastari is a unique online platform that facilitates interaction between collectors and museums, enabling the optimal and efficient processing of exhibition loans. On the one hand, Vastari collaborates with important private collectors who own works worthy of exhibiting; on the other, it works with curators from top museums around the world who are on the lookout for items to include in upcoming shows. According to Art Daily, as of 22 September 2014:
Curators registered on Vastari can now obtain access to almost one million pieces of art from around the world held by a wide variety of collectors. Likewise, collectors can connect with over 250 museum professionals including five of the top ten museums globally.
In addition to the growing archive of individual artworks, Vastari recently launched an unprecedented exchange platform for entire exhibitions. Called VTEN (Vastari Travelling Exhibition Network), the platform enables curators to access ready-made exhibitions, find new venues and fill gaps in their exhibition programmes. Charles A. Shepard III, Executive Director of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Indiana, was quoted by Art Daily as saying that VTEN
empowers an exponentially higher degree of institutional connectivity than that of any museum attempting to secure or share exhibitions on their own. No curator’s rolodex can begin to compete with the resources offered by VTEN.
Lifting sanctions on Iranian art
“The Effect of Lifting Sanctions on Export of Art from Iran” was the third and last panel discussion in the symposium hosted by Vastari with Georgina Adam from The Art Newspaper during the opening of Asian Art in London in October 2014. The panelists included:
- Janet Rady, specialist of Middle Eastern contemporary art at The Auction Room;
- Daniel McClean, lawyer specialising in art law, intellectual property law and media law, curator and writer;
- Soheila Sokhavari, Iranian-born contemporary multimedia artist.
The first to speak, Janet Rady set out the background for the timely discussion: the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran hinged, at the time, on ongoing discussions between the United Nations Security Council and Iran on its nuclear programme.
Rady was quick to point out, however, that even if sanctions were lifted, things weren’t going to change overnight. She cited difficulties in particular with financial sanctions – which are most likely going to take at least a couple more years to lift – as a challenge to foreign art businesses dealing with Iran.
A paralysis in the art market
Art lawyer Daniel McClean reiterated Rady’s view that it is unlikely there will be a full-scale reversal or repeal on the sanctions in force. After providing some legal perspectives and case precedent examples on how art dealings are restricted by sanctions, McClean asserted:
You’re still in a very regulated position. […] Also the banks are very sceptical and don’t know what to do even if the law has changed. Practically you have a sort of paralysis of the art market.
A dark Iranian reality
Iranian-born contemporary multimedia artist Soheila Sokhavari delivered a powerful speech illuminating the dark reality of artists living and working in Iran. First, art materials and resources are extremely expensive as well as very hard to find locally. Basic materials such as paint and rolls of film cost four to ten times the price of similar items in the United Kingdom and are often of a much lower quality.
Secondly, sanctions over the years have resulted in a closed domestic market in which unrepresented artists suffer from abuse from collectors and dealers. Collectors profit by pushing down prices of artists and selling the works abroad.
Finally, for artists from small towns who wish to travel to Tehran for exposure and visibility, there is not only the financial barrier of high air transport costs but also the very high risk of domestic airplane accidents. In sum, Sokhavari declares emphatically that:
Sanctions only result in the increased brain-drainage from a country. […] Artists are the lungs and the voices of a culture. If you put them against censorship and sanctions, all you’re doing is you’re silencing and gagging those voices and what you’ll end up doing is removing chances of democracy from a whole culture.
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