On the eve of Iran’s 1979 Revolution, the Iranian public sphere was transformed into places where information could be exchanged verbally, textually, and visually. The walls came alive with opinions and the chants of the masses. After revolutionary forces under Ayatollah Khomeini triumphed and became institutionalized, these same walls became the space for the dissemination of new revolutionary values. This co-optation, however, meant silencing other views from finding space on the walls. Despite this, since the late 1980′s Iranian street art culture has emerged again and has refused to be silenced. Today, Tehran’s walls are the site of competition between the messages of government murals, graffiti artists, Green movement political activists, and pro-government Basiji groups.
During the 1970’s, a sizable percentage of the Iranian population was illiterate. Printed literature were of little use to the masses of urban poor, thus increasing the role of visual and audible revolutionary sources. Ideologues soon realized the power of pictorial imagery and dramatically delivered anti-Pahlavi sentiment. Since then, Iranians from all walks of life have been bombarded with revolutionary slogans, themes, and motifs represented by images. The public square and open street have served as living canvases for artists– whether state-sanctioned or independent– to express emotion and ideas through the art of persuasion.
While Iranian street art has been overwhelmingly dominated by state-sanctioned artists with the intention of indoctrinating the masses, the last decade has seen the rise of independent street artists with no connection to the state. Artists such as Icy and Sot, GhalamDAR, and A1one, have connected traditional Iranian visual culture with the motifs of global street art popularized by Banksy, Shepard Fairey, and others. Additionally, these rising artists do not only provide an aesthetic backdrop to the concrete edifices of urban Iran, but talk back to power and use graphic means to address issues concerning Iranian society. Rather than being only a language of politics, Public street art is entering Iran’s cultural vernacular through engagement rather than propagation.
The above image is a piece created by A1one in Tehran. The spray painted word is haqiqat or truth. A1one uses a technique that Iranians call “siah-mashq,” an essential element of traditional calligraphic education. Originally, “siah-mashq” involves the study of a master’s writing by observing the aesthetic and spiritual characteristics of a particular style. The teacher or master would write the sar mashq (or model) while the student would copy, and then take it to the teacher for correction and advice. By imitating a model, the students were saturated with a particular style of calligraphy, one that could be traced back to previous generations. Usually, a single word or phrase was the object of this calligraphic practice; students would continuously write a word over and over again trying to perfect their script. Soon however, siah mashq became an art form in its own right and even became representative of patience, diligence, as well as an esoteric spiritual quality.
This ornate fill by GhalamDAR was completed using free-hand calligraphy and a diverse blend of colored spray paint. This work, which spells out “different” (متفاوت) in Persian script, transforms letters– symbols that convey audible meaning– into visual art. The piece is purely composed of overlapping words, harkening back to traditional forms of Iranian art through personally-stylized articulations of common calligraphic designs. Here, classical techniques conceived for the reed pen and ink have been reinterpreted for a different medium. GhalamDAR, like A1one and Icy & Sot, is able to take traditional artistic forms and apply it to the contemporary era, innovating and invigorating the Iranian art scene.
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Street Art Utopia – Street Art by Icy and Sot in Iran — A Collection