When people think of Iran, they usually associate it with world-known ancient literature, even though they have no actual awareness about its artistic development. This especially relates to the post-revolution period when Iran seemed to be culturally separated from the “outer” world. Following the Islamic revolution, the country’s political climate nurtured a number of socially concerned artists, but it did not allow them to stay. They currently show Iran’s rich heritage, reveal its troublesome past, and represent the issues of identity, gender, and cultural differences. That’s their way of talking about the contradictions that modern Iranian life entails and finding solutions to social problems. There are ten of such people who are not afraid of sharing their experience.

Shirin Aliabadi 

Shirin is an Iranian contemporary visual artist. She works on revealing the wishes and desires of young women. Her photos are said to destroy stereotypes about typical female appearance: in the series “Girls in car”  there are no traces of black chador, no floor-length cloth which covers the whole body. Even their veils look like fashion accessories rather than symbols of modesty and privacy. Alibadi compares reality with its traditional image, touching upon an important problem of women’s limited freedom.

Her other series, “Miss Hybrid”, shows the importance of pop-culture in modern Iran. This collection comprises artificial studio portraits of young women with blonde hair, blue or green coloured lenses, and small plasters on their noses. Every detail has a particular meaning: the last one, for instance, shows the popularity of plastic surgeries in the region. 

Bahar Sabzevari

While creating different works, many Iranian artists usually express their opinions in regard to what happens around them. Bahar Sabzevari is one of those artists. She studied fine arts in Paris and later – in  New York Academy of Art. “Bad girls” is her most popular series which can be perceived as Bahar’s response to the pressure she has felt as a woman and an artist. Sabzevari uses calligraphy, some religious details, characters and symbols to show the protest against restrictions. Depicting herself in these drawings, Bahar expresses the conflict between a woman’s role in Islam and her everyday existence.

Now Bahar Sabzevari travels a lot and indulges in a life free of burdens.  

Amir Farhad 

Iranian artists use a great variety of different artistic styles and movements. This includes calligraphy, graffiti, feminist art, portraits, body art and other interesting mixes. Amir Farhad, who studied graphic design at the Tehran Art and Architecture College, creates cartoon figures, sketches of objects and nature.

The Parade is filled with conflicting qualities – it manifests comedy and tragedy, light and dark.  They look like maps or graphic descriptions of some events. Actually, through these combinations of doodles and graffiti pieces, Amir Farhad critiques the growth of capitalism in Iran and draws attention to political and social weakness. Filling all the canvas’s space with various elements, he creates an atmosphere of disorder, anxiety. The point is that it is difficult for him to accept the realities and contradictions of modern Iran.    

Shadi Ghadirian 

Shadi Ghadirian is a contemporary photographer living and working in Tehran. Through her images, she reveals women’s role in modern Iran, the contradictions they deal with every day. The first series, Qajar, replicates traditional costumes and settings of the Ghajar period but with some Western props such as a vacuum, a Pepsi can, a boom box. 

Shadi Ghadirian is mostly famous for a series of portraits called Like Every Day. These images humorously describe a positive female identity and challenge conservative gender roles. Some of them even have sarcastic implications, creating a parody on stereotypes about women. Since 1990, she has held exhibitions all over the world, mostly In North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

Romisa Sakaki 

Romisa Sakaki is a young member of the online platform Young Persian Artists. Although she lives and works in Iran, her artworks differ from those that were mentioned above, as there is a focus on the inner world as opposed to the outer. Her paintings have a personal basis and show the particular things Romisa is terribly afraid of – loneliness, isolation, and abandonment. These drawings seem to embody happiness, simply positive emotions, but after detailed analysis viewers think about their own social experience.

Romisa’s early works are dedicated to war migrations and confrontations with Iranian police. They were influenced by the wave of uprisings in her home country.

Afshin Pirhashemi 

Born in Urmia, Afshin Pirhashemi now lives and works in Dubai. He creates photorealistic women’s portraits which demonstrate their role in contemporary Iran society. This artist finds inspiration in everyday life through examining the complexities women cope with. In his works, he expressed marriage, intimacy, manifestations of power, and revenge. They seem to be his own protest and personal reflection on the life.

Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian is an Iranian photojournalist and documentary photographer. For many years she has worked internationally, covering wars, social problems and natural disasters in the countries of the Middle East. Her images have been published in widely-known magazines including Time, New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic. Newsha’s main principle is to be honest in all her photographs. Following this idea, she discloses sincere stories of Iranian people who have touched her soul.

Her Look series represents people feeling oppression and frustration. Their gestures, thoughtful looks, and appearances as a whole open all the hidden emotions. Many of her photos are dedicated to the women’s issues in Muslim countries. In 2015 she became a Magnum nominee.

Vahid Chamani

Vahid Chamani is an award-winning painter. He graduated Tehran’s Soore University in 2007 and in 2014 was listed as one of five best selling artists under 30 in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Dubai and Doha. His artworks attract viewer’s attention by its dark background, fantastic characters with blind eyes and separated faces. Vahid Chamani himself reports that through these paintings he shows a wide gap between Iran’s tradition and modernism, a theme of “having no time and place” in the current global stream. The main idea which is maintained in all his works is identity loss in his home country.


Zahra Shafie

From early childhood, Zahra Shafie enjoyed painting people. That’s what she continues doing, depicting their identity, position in society and daily life routine. Her artistic style is colorful, humorous and quite optimistic. The important detail concerning Zahra’s images is that there are no backgrounds: Queen of The Kitchen, for example, shows a woman who doesn’t have a particular location and inherent lifestyle.

This series is made for all the people with the aim to represent that all the responsibilities are to be done with “refinement and charm”.

Ali Banisadr

Ali Banisadr is an Iranian-born artist living in New York City. When he was a child, his family moved to the United States where he studied for a BFA and an MFA. As he was growing up during the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war, his paintings are straightforwardly connected with these events. Banisadrs’s works are bordering on chaos and disorder, have a historical and personal basis.

He holds regular exhibitions but primarily in the United States. Despite this fact, he maintains his interest in the Middle East and its history.

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