Is Iranian art on the up? CAMA, a major dealer in Tehran, has recently opened its first outpost in London, with one in Los Angeles in the pipeline. Iranian art is setting records at major auction houses. Big-time collectors are enjoying the relatively low prices of both its masters and its contemporary rising stars. And the country continues to invest in its arts education, disproportionately across the Middle East. Mojeh Men talks with Mo Khosheghbal, co-founder of the CAMA gallery, Tehran, on why art out of Iran – long hidden away – is at last having its moment.
MM: Would you say that art from the middle east generally been overlooked in international markets?
MK: As far as the past few years are concerned, I would say this isn’t necessarily so. Recent statistics suggest that Middle Eastern art has been among the most popular and the best-selling artistic works at prestigious auctions and major art enterprises. Many collectors have been impressed by the works of the artists in this field as a result of the high quality of Middle Eastern art and their relatively their low prices. The quantity and the quality of these works were surprisingly high in countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Iran.
MM: Why specifically art out of the middle east?
MK: Middle Eastern art has undergone many changes in recent years. These developments have been the result of the social and political events happening in the region, the influence of Western modern art and the confrontation between tradition and modernity. These events have had remarkable results in the artistic works of Middle Eastern artists. This distinct creativity and artistic expression make works out of the Middle East valuable and appealing to us.
MM: Focusing on art out of Iran, how much has censorship been a problem?
MK: Censorship is not a major obstacle for visual arts in Iran. Of course, there are some limitations according to the laws. However, as in many other societies across the globe, limitations have been one of the starting points for creativity and has fostered remarkable artistic visions. This is abundantly seen in the creative works by artists in the region.
MM: What is changing to make it more visible?
MK: While Middle Eastern art has long been appreciated worldwide, perhaps it may not have been dealt with or represented by the media as much as art from other regions. With the increased exposure in recent years, a large number of art enthusiasts have turned their attention to the region to appreciate the richness, power and quality of the artworks. Of course, this has been affected by the social and political development in the region.
MM: What does middle eastern or Iranian art have in the way of defining characteristics?
MK: Middle Eastern art, and especially Iranian art, has a very supreme and valuable trait, which is presenting the myths of ancient lands, such as Iran, through mystical and mysterious motifs of the ancient traditions. This feature seems to be of particular interest to the Western world.
MM: Which rising stars would you tip and why?
MK: There are currently numerous relatively young artists in Iran who are impressing audiences. In particular, I would mention Bita Vakili, Mostafa Nourbakhsh and Ali Nedaei, who work with painterly techniques who draw on Persian history, along with the great artists such as Mahmoud Kalari, Seifollah Samadian and Abbas Kiarostami for their poignant photographic representations of modern day Iran.