Maryam Majd, director at the Assar Art Gallery, Tehran, tells Artscoops why Iranian art’s appeal is growing by the day.
Iman Afsarian, Untitled, Oil on canvas, 130x120 cm, 2011
With its signature storytelling style and use of subtlety to relay significant messages, there’s plenty that sets contemporary Iranian art apart from the crowd.
Add to the mix the inevitable influences of a tumultuous history and it becomes easier to understand why interest in Iran’s flourishing art scene is on the rise.
It’s a trend that comes as no surprise to Maryam Majd, director at the Tehran-based Assar Art Gallery, who is all too aware of what modern Iranian art has to offer collectors and enthusiasts.
“Iranian art is both special and unique,” she says. “Contemporary artists channel everything that affects and influences them into their art.”
The Assar houses 11 mostly mid-career artists, including Iman Afsarian, considered to be one of Iran’s most celebrated still-life painters, and Reza Lavassani, a master craftsman known for his oil paintings and sculptures.
Majd tells Artscoops that while all 11 have an individual language, tone and way of working, they share a common passion for their art. “They really put their heart into it and that comes across in their work,” she says.
She explains that despite working in an at times restrictive environment, Iran’s artists have long found ways of getting their thoughts and themes across in clay or on canvas with characteristic discreetness and vagueness.
“They are showing that announcements and messages don’t have to be bold,” she notes. “Audiences are connecting with that concept and they like it.”
She cites the examples of Afsarian, who conveys his deep interest and engagement with notions of “loss, absence and silence” in his work, and Alireza Adambakan, who finds present-day references to old religious stories and interprets current issues through them. There are, of course, many more.
Alireza Adambakan, “Free Me from Water” from the Haftad-o-Du-Tan series, Ink, pencil, acrylic and chalk pastel on canvas, 200 x 150cm, 2010
The Assar is located in a beautiful old refurbished house in downtown Tehran; a pioneer in what is today the city’s cultural hub.
Needless to say, after countless peaks and declines, Iran’s art scene is currently flourishing. Local artists, it seems, are reaping the rewards of increased exposure at home and abroad, fuelled, in part, by recent developments on the international scene which have put Iran firmly in the spotlight. Art schools are full and new galleries are springing up at an alarming rate.
Majd admits to being sceptical as to whether the current boom is sustainable, saying, simply, “It’s too soon to tell.”
Some establishments might come and go, along with trends such as ‘chador art’. With its somewhat predictable subject matter and use of Orientalist motifs, ‘chador’ is seen by many experts as at best commercial and at worst contrived. Again, Majd chooses her words carefully. “We know that Iranian art is much better than that,” she says with a smile.
As gallery director, Majd has played a key part in supporting the Assar’s plans to extend its reach on the global art scene, setting up its international arm and promoting Iranian artists via fairs, exhibitions and partnerships. Buyers, she says, are originating from an increasingly broad base, with interest on the rise both regionally and further into Europe.
Projects being considered include a possible office-cum-showroom in the UK which would help the gallery strengthen its international presence. “We know cultural tourists are coming to Tehran in bigger numbers, but there’s no doubt that when you step outside, you learn more about the market,” Majd says.
Such a move would also provide more of Europe’s art lovers with an opportunity to view work by a group of artists who might be reflecting on Iran’s past, but undoubtedly form an integral part of its present and future.