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Urban Iran – Art, Photography and Graffiti

A brave publishing venture.

Iran is one of the world’s most maligned countries by the mass media and so it’s always a pleasure to come across a book which shows the human side of the country. Urban Iran takes us on a journey through the art and culture of Teheran and opens up a window through the barrage of prejudices letting the humanity shine through.

From the beginning Urban Iran feels like a book you want on your shelf. The hardback cover is stylish and beautifully textured and a quick flick through reveals high quality photography and articles ranging from cult Iranian cars to beard enforcement by the religious regime. It’s a book that breathes humanity and it’s hard to know where to start.

Trouble is, it seems the authors didn’t quite know either. The scope of the book seems a little confused; is it a book about Teheran? In which case why all the art? Is it a book about modern Iranian art? Then why feature just one graffiti artist and why concentrate so much on illustration for children’s books?

The articles are interesting, the images are striking but there’s little cohesiveness to the book and the undercurrent of self-expression hinted at in modern Iranian youth doesn’t quite shine through. Granted, it’s hard to identify an art scene when the authorities do all in their power to censor and persecute any artist who challenges the status quo. We learn that even the Heavy Metal bands need to incorporate words from Rumi in their music if they’re to be allowed permission to play.

Urban Iran also reminds us that most of today’s youth were born after the Iranian Revolution of 1978 and so have known nothing other than the stifling regime of today. Yet the urge to express, to experiment must find an outlet:

‘There is no art for art’s sake in that there are very few patrons. The youth in Iran has a lot to express these days. They use art as a way to channel their thoughts, their anxieties and, at times, frustrations – and for that, art in all its forms serves a great purpose in today’s Iran.’

Urban Iran is still a good read, the images are a pleasure to behold and god knows any publication that communicates the humanity of Iran beyond the demonisation of Fox News must be welcomed. It’s a good introduction to aspects of modern Iranian culture and is a cool addition to any coffee table.

You just get the feeling it could have been better.