Five Iranian visual artists to discover

Reflections on a changing society.

[O]nce largely hidden from Western view, the contemporary art scene is Iran is now flourishing as a powerful social and cultural force. Making sense of the country’s identity in the years after the Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq war – young Iranian artists are blending the rich history of Persian art with radical new modes of self expression.

Covering the artists that have come of age from the 1950s to the present, Honar: The Afkhami Collection is a new book from Phaidon celebrating the best in modern and postmodern Iranian art. Showcasing a wide range of styles from new media to sculpture and calligraphy, it’s a fascinating insight into a new generation of creative talents from the Middle East.

Discover five Iranian artists presenting a unique view on gender, identity and sexuality, below.

Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi Ghadirian, No. 6 (from the Like Everyday series, 2000-2), 2000, c-print, 50 x 50 cm / 193⁄4 x 193⁄4 in. Picture credit: Courtesy Shadi Ghadirian and Silk Road Gallery, Tehran

Playing on Western misconceptions about the role of women in Iran, Shadi Ghadirian’s Like Everyday series features portraits of veiled women with faces obscured by household objects including sieves, plates and colanders. These objects are domestic gifts she received from her own wedding – but had no idea how to use. The resulting images send up stereotypes about Muslim women as housewives, challenging one dimensional views on Iran.

Mohammad Ehsai

Mohammad Ehsai, Untitled (Red Calligraphy on Grey Ground), 2006, oil and glitter on canvas, 157 x 157 cm / 613⁄4 x 613⁄4 in. Picture credit: Courtesy Mohammad Ehsai

Mohammad Ehsai creates striking pieces using calligraphy – placing the aesthetic and religious tradition of Arabic script into a modern context. Inspired by Western abstraction and experimenting with form and scale, his modernist style is a bold celebration of the sacred and a break from the rigidity of the past.


Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat, Untitled (Hands), 2005, digital inkjet print (30/100), in collaboration with Izhar Patkin and Rafael Fuchs, 45.1 x 29.8 cm / 173⁄4 x 113⁄4 in. Picture credit: Courtesy Shirin Neshat

Exploring themes of gender, identity and politics in the Islamic world, Shirin Neshat places women at the centre of her art. Producing film and portrait photography, her evocative visuals feature stark contrasts, reflective of the paradoxical experiences of existing amidst fundamentalism and modernity.

Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian, Woman Fighter (Beritan Khabat), 2015, inkjet print on fine art paper, 75 x 100 cm / 291⁄2 x 391⁄2 in. Picture credit: Courtesy Newsha Tavakolian and Magic of Persia Foundation, London

Newsha Tavakolian has been working as a press photographer since the age of 16. Entirely self taught, her work covering the war in Iraq and Iran’s reformist movement has been published in Time Magazine, Le Figaro and The New York Times. Now creating work that blends documentary photography with fine art, her arresting images tell the story of conflict, loss and survival.

Mehdi Farhadian

Mehdi Farhadian, Fishes, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 130 cm / 71 x 511⁄4 in. Picture credit: Courtesy Mehdi Farhadian and Mah Art Gallery, Tehran

Influenced by the paintings of David Hockney and Peter Doig, Mehdi Farhadian’s art resonates with a sense of magic, evoking both a futuristic utopia and a longing for the past. Featuring humans and animals in stunning natural landscapes, the Tehran-based artist creates a world of imagination drawing on his childhood memories of Northern Iran, questioning our relationship with both the natural world and our past.

Honar: The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art is available now from Phaidon