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Visual Arts

A critical inquiry into various styles of Iranian visual art demonstrates its developmental process from decorative and more ornamental works towards more conceptual themes. The Contemporary Art of Iran covers modernist art, conceptual, pop, postmodern, and all other styles that are exhibited in Iran today.

Although many Iranian artists engage in traditional forms such as painting and sculpture, more and more are increasingly engaged in making installation, video, and environmental art, and still others have blurred the distinction between painting and sculpture. What is referred to as “New Art” in Iran today crosses the boundaries of medium and engages in social, gender, and ethnic issues, as well as human rights and all matters concerning day-to-day life in Iran.

The modernist artists of the 1960s and 1970s had already reacted against the sentimentality and historicism of the European landscape paintings and rejected the romanticism of the more traditional styles of paintings. Iranian modernists were celebrating experimentation, originality, the principles of form following function, and the use of new material in their works. The early Iranian modernists rejected ornaments on the grounds that they were superficial and signs of an unreflective society.

Despite the rapid change of art movements and styles, “modernism” still remained a style typical of pre-revolutionary Iran. Modernist artists used ordinary objects and popular images and placed them in new aesthetic contexts. In regards to contemporary issues such as ethnicity and identity, outside of post-impressionist contexts, depicting Iranian ethnicity or identity in order to serve the traditional aesthetic values, for its own sake, for further critical examination, or as a non-decorative subject matter, was not the norm for many modernist artists.

The 1979 revolution marked the beginning of a new era in Iranian art. Many artists and art administrators turned their attention to the socio-political realities of the revolution. Scenes of people’s everyday lives, rural landscapes, and traditional ritual scenes, which had mostly been depicted for aesthetic pleasure, were substituted by religious works. Traditional images of poverty and injustice depicted in the pre-revolutionary period of Iran, which were mostly apolitical and depicted in the realist style, did not reflect the goals and aspirations of the revolution. Even the religious paintings, originally made to express spiritual and traditional beliefs of ordinary people, did not reflect the day-to-day practices and ideological beliefs of the new revolutionary culture. Importance of “ideology and belief” substituted technique and style as distinguishing elements of this period’s art.

In production of contemporary Iranian art, more and more special attention is given to creating critical dialogues and engaging in cultural questions.

Today’s new generation of artists is able to create and view art as a process of translation. To them, issues of ethics and morality, appropriation, theatricality, and publicity become valid subject matter to work with. Depicting the simplicity and goodness of Iranian rural life, traditional and decorative heritage, and institutionalized slogans, works can present a stereotypical picture of Iranian culture. A closer look will reveal an evolutionary process, which later leads to postmodern and pluralistic works by artists who are fluent synthesizers and in command of many styles. Artworks that are informed by contemporary issues and yet offer a personal narrative seem to connect on a deeper level with viewers. Nevertheless, Iranian artistic development and creative expression should be seen within its own context. Only then can one have a fair appreciation for what is produced in Iran today.

Thus, in the first decade after the revolution, the traditional art historical criteria and the safe modernist categories were the convenient tools. In other words, a modern movement based on the rejection of tradition had itself become a convenient tradition, and the distinction between elite intellectualism and mass culture had lost its precision.

As a consequence, Modernism became an institutionalized trend that was no longer a revolutionary approach. In time, issues of social change, necessity of conceptual art, performance art, and nonconventional standards of form and production, now prevalent in other societies, had to be considered and gradually became accepted and dominant trends in exhibitions and biennials.

 

Refrence(s):

- Kamrava. Mehran & Manochehr Dorraj (2008).Iran Today: AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LIFE IN THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC. London. Greenwood Press.

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