Notes On The Iranian Art Scene

Mohamed Afkhami, Iran, Art, Ali Banisadr
Collector Mohamed Afkhami meets Ali Banisadr in his New York studio. They speak about the Iranian art scene, the medium of painting and the ideal exhibition space

I met Ali Banisadr about five years through a studio visit organised by art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac – Ali’s first European dealer. When we met there were quite a few people present. Ali was in the midst of making four big works and a few smaller works. He was dead set on placing his larger works in institutions – larger works meaning over two meters high. We spoke and I told him that I would be a long-term collector. I finally spoke to his dealer and managed to get a big piece – at last! Ever since that day Ali and I have been great friends. We recently saw each other in London and also went to Venice together. The reason why we are friends is that we are also peers. And being an Iranian myself I know some of the struggles that he has been through. The reason why I love his work is that he has taken the traditional themes of Iranian folklore and culture and abstracted them on canvas. He also blends them with post-Renaissance influence. He’s also a painter. He’s not a conceptual artist. He is incorporating great techniques and creating something new and that’s what I love about his work.

I have a single masterpiece on display in my home where it has been positioned on its own wall with customized lighting so that the viewer can zoom in on the detail of the work. Ali makes maybe at best 15 or 20 works a year and maybe four or five of great magnitude reflecting his belief in giving his artwork to institutional collections. He is very disciplined about his career and he has the right mentality to grow it. It’s not just that he’s Middle Eastern. He happens to be from the region – but his work transcends so many cultural boundaries and that’s what I love about him and his art. And it’s for this reason that his collectors are not just from the Middle East – they are from all over the world.

Mo: How much influence do you draw from your Iranian heritage when making your works?  What influences you to create your art?

Ali: I think the influences always work their way into the paintings subconsciously and somewhat obliquely. It always works better this way, when the imagery comes from your memory and imagination. Since I am Iranian and am very much interested in its culture historically and lived there a quarter of my life, there are certainly some Iranian influences that come through in my paintings.  But of course when it comes to my work there are no borders or limits to where the influences come from.

Mo: If there were a dream location to exhibit your work, where would it be and why?

Ali: At this point I would like to have a traveling Museum show. I’d like to be able to reunite the body of works that I have made in the past 10 years and see their reception by different audiences in the US, Europe and beyond. 

Mo: As an artist, how important is it to you that your works end up in collections you admire?

Ali: It is very important for me to know that my work ends up in the collection of a private or public institution that I admire and know that the collectors are passionate about my work. I like the relationship and conversation that comes from collectors who truly care about the pieces they are acquiring and are really interested in how art works relate to each other throughout history.

Mo: Do you one day envisage exhibiting your work in Iran now that sanctions are being lifted and Iran is re-entering the international community of nations?

Ali: It would be wonderful to be able to exhibit in a museum or institution in Iran and to meet the artist community there.

Mo: Do you think that one day you will do work beyond traditional painting?

Ali: I never like to limit myself so if the works require me to use a different medium then I would do so. However, I feel that the medium of painting is so challenging and difficult that it will keep my interest going for years to come.

Mohamed Afkhami, Iran, Art, Ali Banisadr