My name is Neda. I am from Iran and moved to the UK in 2010. I am a freelance researcher and was involved, along with eight other young Iranians, with the Iranian Identity in Art display, as part of the World Stories Young Voices gallery at Brighton Museum. We worked with curators at the museum to select contemporary artwork and objects for display and to create gallery interpretation. The theme of the display is how the art of writing or calligraphy has and continues to be an important part of Iranian art production. I was excited to be working on this gallery as it will raise the profile of Iranian contemporary art in the UK, and challenge preconceptions about the Middle East.
During the World Stories Young Voices project we studied the historic Iranian objects in the collection and discussed the contemporary artworks. We related to the objects in a personal way rather than focusing on their historical or technical aspects.
The calligraphy box particularly stood out for me due to its beautiful poetry and miniature painting. I translated the poem and recorded a reciting in both Persian and English. The poem can be listened to with a mobile device via the QR code available at the museum.
What I really like about the gallery is the mixture of historic and contemporary objects on display. Middle Eastern audiences appreciate contemporary art by drawing from the cultural context and background that has influenced that art. Displaying traditional art alongside the contemporary art can help to contextualise it for a non Middle Eastern audience.
Iran: An artistic renewal
Around 65% of the population of Iran are under 30 years old. There are plenty of young talented Iranian artists who are well-known to a small artistic circle within Iran, and unknown to the rest of the world. As an Iranian I feel it is important to support these artists through museum displays and through collecting contemporary art.
Due to restriction and censorship of art in Iran, artists must be imaginative and nuanced in the messages that they convey. They have also inherited a rich artistic history which has been influenced by pre Islamic period (Persian art and culture) as well as Islamic art.
As Iranians, we decided to display an artwork which could not be displayed in Iran as it shows a young woman without a headscarf which is forbidden in Iran. Nader Davoodi’s work titled Dream Indicator is a strong representation of a young woman. She emerges through an upside down script of an old Persian love story which suggests the interplay between contemporary life and traditional practices.
During the project I ran workshops to teach Iranian calligraphy at a families event at Brighton Museum. In the workshop I helped children create their own designs. They were inspired by the traditional and contemporary Iranian calligraphy. Finally, we made the designs into badges.
Neda Kahooker, Researcher, Iranian collections