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Brandeis professor publishes book about contemporary Iranian art

By Michelle Kim

Section: Arts, Featured

September 19, 2014

Last Monday, Dr. Talinn Grigor, associate professor in the Department of Fine Arts at Brandeis, published her latest book, “Contemporary Iranian Art: From the Street to the Studio.” The book, which is already out of stock online, comprehensively analyzes contemporary Iranian art and visual culture and was featured on the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute’s website.

In the midst of the 2009 Iranian presidential elections, Grigor visited Tehran in June. “It was important to be in Iran at the time and sort of seeing how contemporary art was related to politics,” she said in an interview. She wrote the book soon after the academic year of 2009-2010.

The book includes 164 displays of artwork, many of which were photographed or acquired by Grigor herself. “Most of them are in color. They are a combination of artworks I collected from artists themselves. I purchased some of them from art foundations and photographers. In the first chapter, which addresses propaganda art in the streets of Iran, almost all of the photos are exclusively mine. Whatever was in the public domain, such as propaganda art, murals and architecture, were my own photographs.”

In the introduction, Grigor recalls how she was contacted by former Shahbanu Farah Pahlavi, who actively collected millions of dollars worth of contemporary Western and Iranian art. Grigor says “Pahlavi probably called because I had sent her a copy of my first book, ‘Building Iran.’” Feeling regretful after the “mismanaged and undiplomatic discussion,” Grigor later realized that the entire point of the book was to be a critical history of Pahlavi Iran architecture. “The writings about Iran’s visual culture have often been, and remain so including this study, truncated. We are nowhere near to seeing a full picture of this history … I hope this brief study will become a stepping-stone for others who will write a much richer, a more in-depth, analytical, contextualized and critical history of Iran’s visual culture and arts,” she wrote.

Grigor not only looks at art sponsored by the Islamic Republic but also avant-garde art in the streets, galleries and museums. The book first examines street art, then studio and exile works while stating that all three must be looked at and understood codependently. It also offers a glimpse of the recent sociopolitical chaos of Iranian history.

While examining contemporary art, Grigor looks at all kinds of works of art, including “subversive and daring art produced in private to propaganda art, martyrdom paraphernalia and museum interiors. She examines the cross-pollination of kitsch and avant-garde, the art market, state censorship, the public-private domain, the political implications of art and artistic identity in exile.”

Educated at University of Southern California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Grigor is also the author of “Building Iran: Modernism, Architecture and National Heritage under the Pahlavi Monarchs and Identity Politics in Irano-Indian Modern Architecture.”

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