Parviz Tanavoli

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Parviz Tanavoli
Parviz Tanavoli-پرویز تناولی-مجسمه ساز.jpg
Born Parviz Tanavoli
(1937-03-23) 23 March 1937 (age 80)
Tehran, Iran
Nationality Iranian
Education Tehran School of Fine Arts
Brera Academy
Known for Sculpture and Painting
Notable work The Wall (Oh Persepolis)
Movement Saqqakhaneh
Patron(s) Farah Pahlavi

Parviz Tanavoli (born 23 March 1937 in Tehran) is an Iranian sculptor, painter, scholar and art collector. He has lived in Vancouver, Canada since 1989.

Tanavoli's work has been auctioned around the world leading to overall sales of over $6.7 million, making him the most expensive living Iranian artist.[1] Tanavoli is known for his heeches, three dimensional representations of the Persian word for 'nothing', heech. Composed of three Persian characters in the style of nasta'liq. The three letters he, ye and če are combined to produce the word ‘heech’.[2]

Academic career[edit]

Upon graduating from the Brera Academy of Milan in 1959, Tanavoli taught sculpture for three years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He then returned to Iran and assumed the directorship of the sculpture department at the University of Tehran, a position he held for 18 years until 1979, when he retired from his teaching duties.



Since 1989 Tanavoli has lived and worked in Vancouver. His latest solo exhibition was a retrospective held in 2003 at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Prior to that he had held solo exhibitions in Austria, Italy, Germany, United States and Britain. Tanavoli has been in group exhibitions internationally. His work has been displayed at the British Museum, the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, the Isfahan City Center, Nelson Rockefeller Collection, New York, Olympic Park, Seoul, South Korea, the Royal Museum of Jordan, the Museum of Modern Art, Vienna, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Hamline University, St. Paul[3] and Shiraz University, Iran. In 2015, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College organize the first solo exhibition of Tanavoli's work in the US.[4]


He belongs to Saqqakhana group of artists who, according to the scholar Karim Emami, share a common popular aesthetic.[5] He has been influenced heavily by his country's history and culture and traditions, (he was once cultural advisor to the Queen of Iran) and has always been fascinated with locksmithing.

Politics and art[edit]

In 2005, he created a small piece of sculpture called Heech in a Cage to protest the conditions of the American-held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and in 2006 began work on his piece to honour the victims of the Israeli-Lebanon war.

A day before Tanavoli was due to speak at the British Museum, authorities in Iran confiscated his passport, preventing him from leaving the country. By phone from Teheran, Tanavoli explained that "I have not done anything wrong. I spent the whole day at the passport office but no one told me anything, nor did anyone at the airport. I’m not a political person, I’m merely an artist."[6]

Portrayal in film[edit]

The documentary film "Parviz Tanavoli: Poetry in Bronze",[7] released in 2015 tells the remarkable story of Tanavoli's journey of creation that began in Iran in the 1950's and has spanned three continents over more than half a century. Directed by Terrence Turner and produced by Timothy Turner and Tandis Tanavoli, the documentary features exclusive interviews with Tanavoli and leading figures in the international art world who illuminate the emergence and rise of this extraordinary artist who continues to this day to return to Iran from his adopted home in Canada to teach young, aspiring artists.


Tanavoli has written dozens of publications, dating back over three decades. Among these are:

  • The Afshars, London (in press),
  • Gabbeh: Art Underfoot, Tehran (2004),
  • Tribal and Rustic Weaves from Varamin, Tehran (2003),
  • Persian Flat-Weaves, London. (2002),
  • Horse and Camel Trappings from Tribal Iran, Tehran (1998)
  • Sofreh of Kamo, Tehran (1996),
  • Kings, Heroes and Lovers, London (1994),
  • Shahsavan: Iranian Rugs and Textiles, New York, Switzerland (1985),
  • Locks from Iran, Washington DC (1977).
  • A video clip about Locks from Iran [2]
  • Tanavoli, Parviz; Sherrill, Sarah B; Carey, Moya (2015). European women in Persian houses: Western images in Safavid and Qajar Iran. ISBN 978-1-78453-507-0. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz; Fischman, Lisa; Balaghi, Shiva; Amirsadeghi, Hossein; Eisler, Maryam Homayoun; Davis Museum and Cultural Center (2015). Parviz Tanavoli. ISBN 978-0-9858249-3-8. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz (2002). Persian flatweaves: a survey of flatwoven floor covers and hangings and royal masnads. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 978-1-85149-335-7. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz; Universität Zürich; Völkerkundemuseum; Musée des arts décoratifs de la ville de Lausanne (1985). Lion rugs: the lion in the art and culture of Iran. Basel; New York, N.Y.: publisher not identified] ; Distributed in the USA by Transbooks. ISBN 978-3-85977-078-2. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz (1985). Shahsavan Iranian rugs and textiles. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 978-0-8478-0626-3. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz (2011). Undiscovered minimalism: gelims from Northern Iran. ISBN 978-1-898113-76-8. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz; Wertime, John T (1976). Locks from Iran: pre-Islamic to twentieth century : [exhibition. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz (1994). Kings, heroes, and lovers: pictorial rugs from the tribes and villages of Iran. London: Scorpion Pub. ISBN 978-0-905906-86-7. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz; Pocock, Charles; Faruqi, Samar (2010). Parviz Tanavoli: monograph. Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Publications Department of Meem with Art Advisory Associates Ltd. ISBN 978-1-907051-03-6. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz; Grey Art Gallery & Study Center (1976). Parviz Tanavoli: fifteen years of bronze sculpture. New York: Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. 
  • Tanavoli, Parviz (2011). Parviz Tanavoli: poet in love : 1970s-2011 works from the artist's collection. London: Austin/Desmond Fine Art. ISBN 978-1-872926-35-3. 


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Standing heech". National Museums Scotland. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Harouni, Shadi (10 February 2015). "Parviz Tanavoli: plenty of 'nothing' - exhibition". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
  5. ^ Ekhtiar, Maryam; Rooney, Julia (April 2014). "Artists of the Saqqakhana Movement (1950s–60s)". Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 2017-02-04.
  6. ^ [1] July 2, 2016
  7. ^ Poetry In Bronze

External links[edit]

  • Mohammed Afkhami, Sussan Babaie, Venetia Porter, Natasha Morris. "Honar: The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art." Phaidon Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0-7148-7352-7.