Contemporary Iranian Art Takes Off In L.A. Shervin Shahbazi is an L.A.-based art curator who has two exhibits featuring contemporary Iranian artists. "From the Streets of Iran" showcases the work of graffiti artists in Tehran, and "Traces of Being" features the work of Iranian artists living in the U.S. The art in both exhibits responds to the current political climate in the country.
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Contemporary Iranian Art Takes Off In L.A.

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Contemporary Iranian Art Takes Off In L.A.

Contemporary Iranian Art Takes Off In L.A.

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There was big news out of Iran today: the disclosure of a new nuclear enrichment plant and President Obama, and other Western leaders quickly criticized President Ahmadinejad for hiding it.

The internal political situation in Iran and Iran's tense relationship with the West are the subjects of two art exhibitions in Los Angeles. One by Iranian artist living in Iran, the other by Iranian-Americans living here. The first one is overtly political, street art, and it includes pieces inspired by the recent protests over the election. The other, also has a political point of view, but it's more nuanced in what it has to say.

Both exhibitions are curated by the same man, Shervin Shahbazi, who came to the U.S. just after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Mr. SHERVIN SHAHBAZI (Art Curator): It's not really about me or the artists that are in this exhibit. But it's about, you know, paying attention to what goes on in Iran because, you know, it might sound cliche but, you know, people have to learn there's other things than a nuclear power plant and a president who's out of his mind.

(Soundbite of drumming)

BRAND: A DJ spins at the Crewest Gallery. On the wall: graffiti art. The show is called "From the Streets of Iran." You can see images at our picture show blog at; paintings with titles like "Escape," "Election," "Scream," and "War Against Peace," by a young artist who goes by the name Isi(ph).

Can you describe it?

ISI (Artist): Well, basically, you know, in Farsi we write from right to left. So the word on the right, which appears in green is soul, which means peace. And there's the man on the left side painting the word war in red over that word. And thats just as simple as it is.

BRAND: Some of the graffiti art didnt make it from Iran to L.A.; a few pieces mailed after the election protests.

Mr. SHAHBAZI: Customs agents in the Iran had pulled out five or six of the pieces. And from what I learned later, was because it had the color green it.

BRAND: Green is the color that symbolizes the Iranian opposition and its leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who lost the presidential election.

Mr. SHAHBAZI: And my surprise was there is a piece that we used for the invite and publicity, which is an image of somebody painting over an image of Mousavi on the wall. But that one made it and, you know, they had no problem with that.

BRAND: Shahbazi found these young graffiti artists through Facebook and other Web sites and had them send their work through the mail. He began corresponding with them long before the June election, but he doesnt know their real names or much about them. Regardless, nearly every work has red stickers next to it, sold to eager Americans interested in owning a small piece of current events.

A few blocks away, Shervin Shahbazi has curated a show by Iranian-Americans. It's called "Traces of Being." The pieces are a lot less obviously political; the second, third or maybe umpteenth draft of history.

Mr. SHAHBAZI: You know, anyone who knows anything about the last 30 years of Iran or a little more, they know that politics are not separate from our lives. You know, we deal with it every day. The reason that Im standing here talking to you in L.A. is because of politics. It's basically part of the fabric of our being.

BRAND: Featured artist Hushidar Mortezaie, known as Hushi, used actual fabric to talk about Iran and the current crisis. His parents brought him here from Iran when he was three years old in 1975, for political reasons. Now he's an artist and fashion designer. His installation is a bit unorthodox.

Mr. HUSHIDAR MORTEZAIE (Artist): Well, it's a boutique I call Chic, and chic is also a gum in Iran.

BRAND: Some of the mannequins in Hushi's boutique installation are two-dimensional collages; one of a woman in a rocker outfit with: and justice for all in big red letters on her miniskirt.

Mr. MORTEZAIE: The youth of Iran are like fashion peacocks and their social defiance is basically their fashion revolution. And then when things recently came to a head, people were barraged on CNN and the news with these images of these glamorous youth who were just fighting for their rights.

BRAND: Hushi says he was inspired by the other exhibition of graffiti art a few blocks away.

Mr. MORTEZAIE: The Green Movement really affected me. And at first I was paralyzed, and then I was inspired. And then I realized that I have to create in honor of these, like, valiant poetic beings that are fighting for their rights. So, you have no choice.

BRAND: You can see some of the images by Hushi and the other artists in the two exhibitions, "Traces of Being," and "From the Streets of Iran," at our Web site,

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