It is strange how what might be seen as radical and subversive in one culture is considered mainstream in another. Street art, wall murals and the like have nearly always belonged to the radical tradition in the West – Belfast’s paramilitary gables, both Loyalist and Republican, spring to mind. By its very nature, street art is art for the people – no fee, no exclusive gallery, it mocks those in power or at least makes a statement about some sort of alternative politics, subculture or way of life.
In Iran though, street art is officially sanctioned and widely utilised to echo the government line. The subject matter is predictable – religious leaders, holy martyrs, Koranic verses and Western aggression (especially that of the USA). This is not to say that it is not creative and well-executed. Occasionally it might even be a little ambivalent and open to interpretation. But dissenters – and in Iran there are many who are not at all happy with their current theocratic governance – have to find alternative means of airing their views: Iranian street art represents the status quo rather than edgy subversion. In a way, it is the equivalent of the British government recruiting ‘Urban’ musicians to rap about the need for social service cuts and fiscal restraint. Art as non-protest.
These images from Tehran, Isfahan, Yazd, Hamedan and Orumiyeh were taken during my visit to Iran in late 2008.