The Scope of Meaning

Now that globalization is all but inevitable and cultures either clash and get devoured or converge and synthesize into broader and more colorful entities, to preserve one’s voice, a nation’s artists have to shoulder the biggest share of responsibility. T

Bustling metropolises; towering buildings; and an endless stream of traffic; a UTOPIA the contemporary man has built for himself.

Everyday life, whether grotesque or graceful, is what citizens are stuck with. On all sides, skyscrapers rise like jagged teeth into the sky, making cities even more threatening.

Tehran, with a population of more than 12 million is one of these cities. The authorities endeavor to improve the cityscape and beautify its appearance through art.

Tehran, August 1941

Iran is under the boots of Anglo-Soviet forces. Soon after, Reza Shah is toppled from his throne. The country undergoes political upheavals. Evanescent socio-political freedoms; a sudden boom in the media industry; the advent of Western culture in the country; and the foundation of Tehran Collage of Fine Arts; they were all contributing factors in the formation of an avant-garde movement in Iran.

After the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, due to a marked shift in the government’s policy, Tehran and other big cities were inundated with Western culture. Iranian identity was at stake. In reaction, a group of modern artists tried to address the issue in their works by exploring for local raw material in Persian literature and traditions, as well as in religious rituals.

Set against such a background, Saqqa-?ana, as a contemporary art movement, emerged in 1962. Using national motifs and religious symbols like astrolabes and props used in mourning processions, Saqqa-?ana artists managed to achieve a “modern-traditional” synthesis that had everlasting impacts on Iranian arts.

Hadi Roshan Zamir

Persian calligraphy, as an eye-catching manifestation of Persian culture, attracted modern artists. It could be used as a national identity element in their works. So calligraphy began to appear on the canvases of Saqqa-?ana artists. The result was the emergence of a new genre called calligraphic painting.

Hadi Roshan Zamir

The display of Hossein Zenderoudi’s canvases at the Third Tehran Biennial in 1962 marked the official birth of the Saqqa-?ana School. Inspired by prayers manuscripts, he tried to achieve an Iranian-Modern style in painting.

Faramarz Pilaram and Mohammad Ahsaee are two foremost artists of this genre.

Hadi Roshan Zami

In addition to calligraphic paintings at the Pardis Mellat Gallery in Tehran, a number of sculptures by some well-known, contemporary artists catch eyes. Mr. Zabihollah Zadeh, a sculptor and university lecturer.

Zabihollah Zadeh:

At the gallery, you can see a work by Parviz Tanavoli, one of the main founders of the Saqqa-?ana School; a fervent believer in a modernism attained through forms of popular visual culture. He has long been inspired by the word heech - meaning 'nothing' - which he has used in numerous and ever more ambitious ways.

Kambiz Sabri:

With the 1960s oil revenue windfall, the governmental cultural departments, along with other private institutions became the regular customers of Iranian and Western masterpieces. Many galleries were founded in Tehran. In the 1970s, this trend reached its climax with the foundation of Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Kambiz Sabri

After the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 and Saddam’s invasion of the country, burgeoning galleries screeched to a halt. And modern arts consigned to oblivion for about a decade. It was just in the beginning of the 1990s that art communities were rejuvenated. Galleries reopened; various arts schools and colleges established; and many young artists began their careers with passion as never before.

Zabihollah Zadeh

Some young artists tried out new ways in sculpture. Hamid Kangarani was one of them.

Hamid Kangarani

Mr. Kangarani has received an invitation to cooperate for a long term with Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

Hamid Kangrani

After the work of Iranian filmmakers caught the attention of critics, cinephiles and festival juries around the globe during the 1990s, it was time for Iranian artists to earn worldwide renown at international auctions. Through their works, Western audience gained a better understating of Iranian arts, which was beyond Persian miniatures and carpets.

Kambiz Sabri

After a successful experience abroad, Iranian works of art came under the hammer inside the country, which was well received by artists and arts investors.

Hadi Roshan Zamir

But it also provokes criticism. Some believe that such events encourage mass culture resulting in the production of poor quality works.

Kambiz Sabri

Successful international auctions drag many Iranian customers to galleries and auctions in Tehran; customers who are not regular collectors but look at paintings as a good investment.

Hadi Roshan Zamir, the manager of the Saraban Gallery explains more.

Hadi Roshan Zamir

At the moment, Pasargad Bank Museum, as a private institution, has one of the best and finest collections of Iranian contemporary arts.

Kambiz Sabri

In recent years, Tehran Municipality has played a key role in promotion of sculpture.

Holding five national and international symposia and putting up more than 400 sculptures in the city have provided an incentive for Iranian sculptors.

Zabihollah Zadeh:

To a great number of citizens, these sculptures are a form of escapism from a harsh, real world to a world of beauty, harmony.

Metropolises were an inevitable ramification of industrial era, but they still continue to mushroom all over the world. In such conditions, arts can be utilized to give meaning to a life in the contemporary, complex world.


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