Calling All Iranian Artists: The Behnam Bakhtiar Award

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Feb 5 2018 / 21:58 PM

In May 2017 entries opened for the first Behnam Bakhtiar Award, an art prize that aims to encourage contemporary Iranian art and culture. We speak with its founder Sassan Bakhtiar on the award’s international vision, its latest recipients and the importance of fostering a global appreciation for Iranian art and culture

Calling All Iranian Artists: The Behnam Bakhtiar Award
Morvarid K. The Thin Line. 2016. Digital Photo. 60x80cm

Harper's Bazaar Art: What is the vision of the Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar Award?

Sassan Bakhtiar: In order to understand the vision of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award, it is important to understand the principles on which the Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar is built. The Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar has been created to support Iranian contemporary art and culture, facilitating its advancement on a global scale. It is a true example of social responsibility and commitment, contributing to the development of creativity for Iranian artists of all communities.

The foundation also carries an independent mission in supporting selected young talents giving them a voice on a global scale, as well as the needed support in order for these talented individuals to flourish, prosper and find their place in the contemporary art world.

The vision of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award is to successfully launch the careers of artists of Iranian descent in the heart of Europe. This is more than just an exhibition in a gallery space. The Award’s programming consists of the creation of a long lasting support system for each of the winning artists, in order to facilitate a sense of family, respect and trust between art institutions and artists. Alone we will not get far, but together with trust, respect and hard work, anything is possible.

Being an artist myself, I know very well, where we have been lacking in order to have a structure that truly supports Iranian artists and their practice, hence the birth of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award. The foundation and its award aims to take emerging artists to the next level in collaboration with art industry professionals and Galerie Behnam Bakhtiar, an upcoming International gallery located in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.

The primary focus of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award is to provide a global platform for the winning artists where their voice can be heard and their works can be seen and collected. Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar is offering the laureate a cash prize of €10,000 and solo exhibition at Galerie Behnam Bakhtiar in the Principality of Monaco. It will also place two works from the winner’s portfolio to enter Behnam-Bakhtiar’s permanent collection.

Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar Award

Morvarid K. The Thin Line. 2016. Digital Photo. 60x90cm

HBA: Why do you feel it is important to foster a global appreciation for Iranian art and culture?

SB: Iranian art has one of the richest art heritages in world history. For hundreds of years artists have worked across many mediums including painting, architecture, weaving, pottery, calligraphy, and sculpture. Furthermore, the culture of Iran is also known as one of the oldest in the world.

Owing to its dominant geo-political position and culture, Iran has directly influenced cultures and peoples as far away as Greece, Italy and Macedonia to the West, Russia to the North, the Arabian Peninsula to the South, South and East Asia to the East. Therefore, a cultural elasticity has been said to be one of the main defining characteristics of the Iranian/Persian spirit and an evidence to its historical longevity.

I feel that I have the social responsibility and a commitment to contribute to the development of Iranian art and culture, as well as to the creativity of Iranian artists from all communities. My focus on Iranian modern and contemporary art, aside from my immense pride and love for my country’s culture and arts, also derives from the potential of the artists from my country.

Iranian artists are now widely represented by leading International galleries: Y.Z. Kami by Gagosian, Farhad Moshiri by Emmanuel Perrotin, Ali Banisadr by Blain Southern, and the list goes on. Leading cultural institutions such as the British Museum, Tate, Centre Pompidou, The MET, Guggenheim, LACMA, and many others, all now include modern and contemporary works by Iranian artists. This is also the case with some of the world’s leading collectors including, François Pinault, Peter Marino, Frank Cohen, or, say, the Tiroche Deleon Fund.

Even the world of fashion could not resist the appeal of Iranian contemporary art. Most recently, Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2017 Haute Couture collection was presented against the backdrop of two Shahriar Ahmadi paintings from his Archaic Techniques of Chemia series.

Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar Award

Babak Kazemi. Anticipating 3old wooden doors. 2013. Handmade glass negatives, hand made silver print on wood

HBA: How does the award differ from other art awards?

SB: The Behnam-Bakhtiar Award is a unique biennial award held in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, and in Monte-Carlo, Monaco, focusing on vital topics related to Iran, which demand or require much attention today. The Award is unique in its nature, due to its specific geographical focus and evident concern for Iran. It prompts contemporary artists to tackle relevant issues related to Iran via art creation.

Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar Award

Morvarid K. The Thin Line. 2016. Digital Photo. 60x90cm

HBA: Can you tell me what some of these subjects are and how artists tackled current and past histories of the country with their work?

SB: “Future. Iran.” was selected as the theme of the first edition of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award. Every change starts with a vision—exploring ideas, inviting possibilities, and planting seeds for a better future. This visionary spirit is what has inaugurated the First Edition of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award, focusing on Iran, its people and inspiration for new generations to come, while opposing the image of a culture and country that is too often misplaced, misunderstood and criticised.

What was interesting to see is that out of the participating artists, many focused on a brighter and more progressive future for Iran. Participating artists could create work in the medium of their choice. We had really interesting submissions ranging from art films, to installations and sculptures, and everything in between. The second theme for the Behnam Bakhtiar Award will be announced in 2019.

Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar Award

Babak Kazemi.Anticipating 4.old wooden doors. Handmade glass negatives, hand made silver print on wood. 2013

HBA: Tell me about the recipients for the 2017 award: Babak Kazemi, Parham Peyvandi, Morvarid K. What makes their work standout?

SB: Out of 130 applications submitted to us from every corner of the globe our great Jury members, consisting of Joobin Bekhrad, Tim Cornwell, Alistair Hicks, Nina Moaddel, Janet Rady and Bibi Naz Zavieh, looked for works that best addressed the Award’s theme visually and ideologically, awarding scores as they went. Babak Kazemi came out on top, with Parham Peyvandi and Morvarid K. securing second and third place.

In my personal opinion, Babak, Parham and Morvarid’s works spoke clearly about a different future in Iran. From Babak’s old wooden doors with hand-made glass negatives, to Parham and Morvarid’s vision of the future of Iran made on canvas and paper, respectively—each of these artists created high quality work blending the past and present realities of Iran.

Behnam Bakhtiar Award

Parham Peyvandi. No.8. 2nd Prize winner of the Behnam Bakhtiar Award

HBA: During trying times such as these how does the award and the foundation serve to enforce the importance of art as a universal force—one that unites people from all cultures and backgrounds?

SB: Based strategically in the unique peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Cote d'Azur, France, the foundation serves as a cultural headquarters providing a gateway between Iran and the world. Unique in its nature, reinforcement and support system, this non-political foundation is constantly developing a new way of interaction, breaking barriers and crossing cultural bridges, while focusing on the introduction of the necessary and alternative mind-set towards Iran today.

The Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar focuses on the universal code of the art language, working close with select talents and artists in order to bring forth new inspirational sources and a forward looking way of thinking.