Finding Iranian food in London is much easier than finding Iranian art—at least until now. Tehran’s CAMA Gallery has stepped over to the west and opened an art gallery in London, making it the first in the city to focus exclusively on Iranian art.
The gallery (which stands for ‘contemporary and modern art’), opened in the St. James, Westminster area of London with a goal of showing the West what Iranian art is really all about.
An exterior view of CAMA Gallery in London
“Iranian art is not all dark, archaic and Islamic,” said Riley Frost, CAMA’s London gallery co-founder. “There is such a breadth of different styles and forms in Iranian contemporary art and we want to show this wide scope. We think Iran is cosmopolitan and their art scene is very important.”
Iran’s contemporary art market is unlike any other in the region, as over half of the revenue generated at Sotheby’s Middle East auction in 2017, $2.7m in sales, was of Iranian art. Just last spring, auction houses Bonham’s, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Tehran Auction sold over $11m in Iranian art.
CAMA Gallery first opened in 2015 with two galleries in Tehran, then last October, they launched an online gallery showcasing a broad roster of Iranian artists. The London gallery opening was a natural progression, said Frost. “It was our biggest step,” he said. “Our main focus in Tehran is the domestic market, but opening it up to an international market is a different caliber.”
The reception in has been overwhelming, especially since there is a large Iranian community in London (86,000 Iranians were reported to live in the UK in 2015), and their inaugural exhibition, a group show of 19 Iranian artists called Sensation, sold out before the show opened.
“Our goal is not just to show Iranian art to Iranians,” said Frost. “We live in a diverse society and London is where cultures are living side by side.”
The goal is also to break down barriers around stereotypes and taboos regarding Iranian culture. “We want to showcase the work to westerners and educate them to dispel the misconceptions in regards to Iran,” said Frost. “The interest has been increasing over the past decade and for us, it has been a dream.”
CAMA Gallery in London shows the artwork of Iranian artists like Beate Vikale, who uses mixed media to paint cityscapes, as well as Mostafa Nourbakhsh, who paints minimalist patterns for abstract artworks. The gallery also shows the works of Amir Ahmad Falsafi, a painter of moody landscapes, and Amir Ahmad Falsafi, who uses calligraphy for text-based works.
An abstract work by Mohsen Jamalinik
Much of the Iranian artwork on view is influenced by Persian iconography and mythology, as well as the geometric patterns found in Mosques and water fountains across Iran. “There is a vibrant art scene in Iran that has been ongoing for 80 years that people don’t know anything about,” adds Frost. “That’s what we serve the purpose for.”
For many of CAMA Gallery’s roster of 100 artists (where only 50 per cent have exclusive contracts with the gallery), it is their debut in the UK. “Many of the artists have shown up to a hundred times in Iran, but never had the opportunity to show elsewhere,” said Frost. “We are the key to Iranian art in the west.”
Granted, there have been several art galleries in London that have come and gone specialising in Middle Eastern art, but CAMA Gallery focuses solely on Iranian contemporary art.
A work by Fereydoon Omidi
“We are the first, but we’re taking a big risk,” said Frost. “Many Western collectors have an interest in Iranian art, but they don’t have access to the Iranian art market, so setting up the gallery is perfect timing.”
Frost is also planning travels to Los Angeles to explore spaces there, as well as in Toronto and Washington, “where there are big pockets of the Iranian diaspora,” he said.
But for the Iranian artists in Iran, there still are restrictions in a country with censorship and severe human rights violations. However, visual artists have more leeway for expression, compared to musicians, comedians, as well as the film and TV world, according to Frost.
“Artists can’t make explicit comments on certain authorities, or touch upon certain themes,” said Frost. “But pressure creates diamonds and the artists in Iran find a way to work it to their advantage, rather than their detriment.”
Currently on view at the gallery is Silent Myths, an exhibition featuring the work of Ali Nedaei. Considered by renowned Iranian art critic Javid Ramezani as one of the most influential painters in Iran, Nedaei’s work explores Persian mythological subjects in both human and animal form, presenting classical themes in a modern and dynamic way. The artist employs the unconventional method of marker on canvases to create dreamlike figures that hauntingly appear on canvas.In October 2018, CAMA will feature an exhibition of five female Iranian contemporary artists.
Ali Nedaei. Untitled. 2018. Gold leaf and silver marker on canvas.
Ali Nedaei. The battle of Lion and Myth No.2 from Amongst the Myth collection. 2018. Silver marker on canvas. 180 x 150 cm.