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Spotlight: Public Art and Iranian Artists

Part of a new street mural by acclaimed Iranian street artist GhalamDAR in Oakland, California. 

Jan 16 2017

In 2016, the Iranian Studies Program began a three-year initiative titled "Public Art, Public Spaces; Iran." The first event in this project launched in November, 2016, with a spectacular turnout and high community engagement

This first series, Art, Social Space and Public Discourse in Iran investigates the multiple contexts that shift and define changing ideas of Iranian public space. The ongoing critical framework of conversations, newly issued art projects, and exploration of various cultural productions and intellectual traditions looks at recent transformations of Iranian civic life. This overall project, envisioned and directed by artist Ala Ebtekar, asks what may constitute the architecture, images, and people that shape multiple notions of a “public” Iran.

The first three-day symposium in November included talks, panels, newly issued art projects, and lecture performances. The opening ceremony took place at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on November 3, 2016, with a live-stream from Tomorrow, a traditional coffeehouse in Tehran, Iran. The symposium site shifted to Stanford University on November 4-5, 2016, continuing the momentum with a series of talks, panels, and additional performances. Simultaneously during the main symposia,  auxiliary events and commissioned public artworks took place across the Stanford campus and the Bay Area. 

Throughout the symposium, panels generated discussion among local and internationally based scholars, and renowned urban artists GhalamDAR, Mehdi Ghadyanloo, and art collective Slavs and Tatars on the socio-political textures of Iranian public space and the widespread history of public engagement in Iran. In addition, project artists produced new work in direct collaboration with Stanford students across several departments. One such art project is the street mural GhalamDAR painted in Oakland, California through a scholar-in-residence component of the symposium. 

In conjunction with the project, Professor Ebtekar offered a course title "Public Space in Iran: Murals, Graffiti, Performance" in the fall quarter at Stanford. The studio practicum paralleled themes of the symposia to explore the traditions of artistic engagement in Iranian public space. The course offered a detailed survey of Iran’s visual culture and contemporary art practices through the investigation of public art strategies and recent cultural expression, in addition to older traditions of performing arts.

This unique collaboration—that spanned the Bay Area and crossed disciplines and borders—facilitated discussions and questions that will be further explored over the next three years.

Video and pictures from the three-day art symposium will be available soon. Join our email list to hear about new events, public artwork, and visiting artists in 2017.

This first step in the initiative was supported by the following sponsors: 

This initiative is supported by various Stanford departments and programs notably the Hamid & Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian StudiesDepartment of Art & Art HistoryInstitute for Diversity in the ArtsStanford Global StudiesCenter for Comparative Studies in Race and EthnicityStanford Arts Office of the Associate Dean, Associate Dean of Humanities & Sciences, Bita Daryabari Endowment for Persian Letters, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.


Read more about the first sequence in this initiative on its dedicated website.