The Aftermath of the Image-Production Revolution in Post-Revolution Iran

A longer version of the essay was originally presented as a talk at the Iranian Contemporary Art Symposium, Bonn, May 2012 before being published by NAFAS multi-lingual magazine. The full text can be accessed here.

Mohammad Hossein Zarqam, a young Iranian artist, burned his birth certificate in front of a camera. The photograph appeared online, was admired by 117 other people of his generation, and was finally sold to another young artist for less than a 100 Euros. It would cost him much more and would take him months to get a second copy of the birth certificate if he intends to do so. Meanwhile, he will not exist officially. But people like him do not officially exist anyway.

Iranian art today is rarely addressed from a visual cultures point of view. When it is, it is seen not as a part of a larger system of image production, but rather simply in opposition to it, as a grappling with censorship defined as a ban on representation of certain topics. As such, Iranian contemporary art is regarded as the expression of Iranians when they speak out using the free margins to express what is conceived of in the freedom of a vacuum. It is also considered as being closely connected or trying to connect to the international art scene. Such formulation also conforms to the image of the country and the expectations of the outsiders. It fits the function of this art within global visual culture. But this art functions quite differently within national borders; it is actually a different notion of art. This accounts for the charge of “self-exoticism” being so strongly leveled against artists who, by choosing a different audience, try to shift between these two functions. It is nearly seen as an act of betrayal.

“Why frown upon self-exoticism if it provides the exotic a chance to be seen? What other way is there to attract the attention of the outsider?” Thus reply those accused of self-exoticism. And they are right. Those of us who have tried to address a foreign audience, through words or images, have felt the pressure. How can you address those whom you have gathered based on an interest on their part in something different from what you are about to express? Ironically, attracting attention—that very essence of contemporary art—through a local gesture fits well in the governmental image-production system.

No Belief, No Homeland

—‘Not Arab!’ As if trying to prove being the legitimate son of his father, an Iranian would firmly respond to a commentator who has made the big mistake of flattering him by considering him a citizen of one of the ‘beautiful warm and rich Arab countries of the Middle-East.’ (more…)

Right to Fashion, Right to Contemporaneity


I am standing in front of the movie theatre. From the façade, you cannot tell it has been closed for twenty years. I hold my hands next to my face and look inside. What I see does not quench curiosity, it increases it. A sumptuous winding staircase rises to the second floor. Some dusty closed box-office wickets. The rest in darkness. Delicate golden door frames. Everything is a la mode. A la mode de quand?


Guiding Design Patterns in Qajarid Architecture and Decoration

IQSA 2009 Conference: Architecture in Qajar Persia

IQSA and Institut für Iranistik

Vienna, Austria, 4-5 June


The paper provides proof for Gulru Nacipoglu’s hypotheses and findings in her book, The Topkapi Scroll: Geometry and Ornament in Islamic Architecture (1995). It takes up its claim that architectural plans and decorations in Iran (at least from the Safavid period onwards) followed preconceived design patterns. While Necipoglu pursues this argument on the basis of the analysis of architectural scrolls, the article approaches the question from the other side, showing how systematics of such scrolls can be found in actual buildings of the time. The cases studied are from the second half of the nineteenth century in Shiraz and Isfahan.


Metaphysics of Absence: Martyr’s Museums in Iran

University of London
Goldsmiths College
Department of Visual Cultures
BA Course Museums and Galleries: Framing Art
2 Dec 2008

For my talk today, I have chosen to present a ‘different’ museum to you. Yet, I invite you, as we progress, to go beyond the sublimity of the terror it provokes or the extreme banality of its making and to look at the intended function for which it was built. It was meant to convey to you, as well as to the native viewers, what fails to reach you through other channels. You might recognize the mode of its representation as a desperate attempt to balk at representation per se.


Politics of Opening: Translation as Authorship

(Urbanism and Multi-Layered Translation)

Published in: Pages Magazine, No. 7,  The Hage, The Netherlands, March 2009, pp. 72-85.

‘… Let us let be or let us allow to be seen what does without the open embouchure.’

—Jacques Derrida, Truth in Painting


A European friend once wrote to me, ‘I wish your country will open up one day.’ What a strange word, I thought: ‘Open up!’ Is it not what the policeman shouts at the door? Open up to what or who? To modernization? To global market? To capitalism? To penetration? Or less aggressively, to adaptation? Or ultimately to translation? Or is it just opening up a space, some sort of a void?

What are the dangers of opening up? What are the politics of opening up or of translation as such?


Public Spaces and the Politics of State Experience in Iranian Cities

International Conference: The Contemporary Oriental City from a Linguistic, Literary and Cultural Perspective

Dept. of Interdisciplinary Eurasiatic Research of the Institute of Oriental Philology Jagiellonian University

Krakow, Poland

21 May 2009

1. Oriental City: A Post-Colonial Approach

A conference on Oriental city in an occidental city is the inescapable context of the paper I shall be presenting to you. Since it reads my text, I might be allowed to read the context. So I start with the term ‘oriental’.