Iranian modern and contemporary art

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History of Persian Art
Qajar art 1781–1925
Safavid art 1501–1722 / 1736
Iranian modern art

A cursory glance at the history of art reveals that social, political and economic conditions have always played a major role in the emergence of new artistic currents and styles. As an example Flight by Morteza Katouzian is showing the marginalized people who have no freedom as result of political changes. In Iran, the social and political developments of the 1940s radically altered the evolution of this country's plastic arts and entirely altering its natural path.


The modern art movement in Iran had its genesis in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This was the period after the death of famous Persian painter, Kamal-ol-molk (1852–1940) and thus symbolically the end of a rigid adherence to academic painting.[1]

The 1949 opening of the Apadana gallery in Tehran by Mahmoud Javadipour and other colleagues, and the emergence of artists like Marcos Grigorian in the 1950s, signaled a commitment to the creation of a form of modern art grounded in Iran.[2] Grigorian found influence for his art in popular Iranian culture, specifically a coffee-house storyteller culture and the visual language of dry earth and mud.[1] One of Grigorian's students at the College of Fine Arts at the University of Tehran was Hossein Zenderoudi, Zenderoudi was interested in the forms and aesthetics of objects made for Shi'a Islam worship.[1] The scholar Karim Emami likened his art to the kind of objects found in saqqakhanas, coining term, the "Saqqakhaneh school".[1][3]

Saqqakhaneh movement[edit]

In the 1950 and 1960s, a new subgenre of Iranian art called the Saqqakhaneh school (also known as Saqqā-ḵāna, Saqqa-khaneh, Saqakhaneh, Sahakhanah) was pioneered by artists Hossein Zenderoudi, Parviz Tanavoli, Faramarz Pilaram, Massoud Arabshahi, Mansur Qandriz, Nasser Oveisi, Sadeq Tabrizi and Zhazeh Tabatabai.[4][5]

Saqqakhaneh school is a movement of neo-traditional modern art that is found in Iran, rooted in a history of coffee-house paintings and Shiʿite Islam visual elements.[6][7][8] The word Saqqakhaneh originally referred to a type of water-fountain shrine found locally, and came to represent a movement characterised heavily by symbolism. Other motifs found throughout the region were incorporated into the artistic movement – the hand being a prime example.[9][10] In scholar Karim Emami's articles on “Saqqā-ḵāna Paintings,” he defined in which a, "combined religious imagery and traditional decorative elements with modern painting techniques, played a significant role in drawing the attention of the media and art connoisseurs to the genre".[3] A visual language was created by drawing on the history of the Shi'a Islamic culture, specifically the saqqakhana, a small public area in which water is given to strangers often decorated with symbols and offerings.[11] The artists of this genre were re-appropriating these symbolic traditions associated with the saqqakhana but with a modernist stance.[11]

By the late 1960s into the 1970s he Saqqakhaneh school artists of Iran had international prominence and this helped pave the way for the opening of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in 1977.[12] The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art boasting an important collection of both Western and Iranian artists.[12] The Iranian revolution by 1979 halted the dynamics of the Iranian arts scene.[12]

It has been debated by various scholars after the publication of Edward Said's 1978 book Orientalism (which posed similar questions), was the Saqqakhaneh movement affected by the postcolonial view of Iran or rather, did it intensify Orientalism.[13][14]

In 2013, Layla S. Diba and Fereshteh Daftari co-curated the exhibition, Iran Modern (2013) shown at the Asia Society in New York City. The exhibition was the first major exhibition of modern art from Iran, featuring 26 artists which included Ahmad Aali, Abbas, Massoud Arabshahi, Siah Armajani, Mohammad Ehsai, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Mansour Ghandriz, Marcos Grigorian, Ghasem Hajizadeh, Nahid Hagigat, Bahman Jalali, Rana Javadi, Reza Mafi, Leyly Matine-Daftary, Ardeshir Mohassess, Bahman Mohassess, Nicky Nodjoumi, Houshang Pezeshknia, Faramarz Pilaram, Behjat Sadr, Abolghassem Saidi, Sohrab Sepehri, Parviz Tanavoli, Mohsen Vaziri-Moqaddam, Manoucher Yektai, and Hossein Zenderoudi.[15] The exhibition was divided into sections including Saqqakhaneh and neotraditional art styles influenced by folk art history, abstract art, and calligraphy.[15]

Notable artists in Iranian modern art[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Sardar, Marika; Ekhtiar, Maryam (2004-10-01). "Modern and Contemporary Art in Iran". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  2. ^ "Article". Archived from the original on 2007-02-14. Retrieved 2007-01-20.
  3. ^ a b "EMAMI, KARIM". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  4. ^ "SAQQĀ-ḴĀNA SCHOOL OF ART". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  5. ^ Rooney, Authors: Maryam Ekhtiar, Julia. "Artists of the Saqqakhana Movement (1950s–60s) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  6. ^ "Saqqakhaneh". art Circle. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  7. ^ "Saqqakhaneh art pieces showcased in Tehran". The Iran Project. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  8. ^ "Sadegh Tabrizi, founding member of Saqqakhaneh Movement/School". Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  9. ^ Bregman, Alexandra (2013). "Iran Modern at the Asia Society". Asian Art Newspaper. Retrieved 2015-04-26.
  10. ^ "Saqqakhaneh art pieces showcased in Tehran". The Iran Project. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  11. ^ a b Keshmirshekan, Hamid (2005-12-01). "Neo-traditionalism and modern Iranian painting: The Saqqa-khaneh school in the 1960s". Iranian Studies. 38 (4): 607–630. doi:10.1080/00210860500338408. S2CID 162877296.
  12. ^ a b c Rooney, Authors: Maryam Ekhtiar, Julia. "Years Leading to the Iranian Revolution, 1960–79 | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2018-02-21.
  13. ^ Khorshidian, Raika; Zahedi, Heidar (November 2017). "The Saqqa-khaneh School: Post-Colonialism or Orientalism Perspective?". The Scientific Journal of NAZAR Research Center (NRC) for Art, Architecture & Urbanism. 14 (53) – via ResearchGate.
  14. ^ Keshmirshekan, Hamid (Summer 2010). "The Question of Identity vis-à-vis Exoticism in Contemporary Iranian Art". Iranian Studies. 43 (4): 489–512. doi:10.1080/00210862.2010.495566. S2CID 144913257.
  15. ^ a b "'Iran Modern' - The First Major Exhibition of Iranian Modern Art (1950-1970)". Islamic Arts Magazine. Retrieved 2019-12-08.

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