By Nazanine Nouri
The PaykanArtCar — a Paykan automobile turned into an artwork by the Iranian artist Alireza Shojaian in support of Iran’s LGBTQ community — was due to be exhibited at the Asia Now art fair in Paris from Oct. 21 to 24. The fair’s organizers canceled the display of the PaykanArtCar, which had been unveiled at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Miami on Oct. 4.
In an emailed statement, Asia Now founder and director Alexandra Fain said the cancellation was decided “following incidents” at the Miami presentation on Oct. 4. “This decision is in no way taken against the artist Ali Reza or his artistic practice, and least of all against his commitment to the LGBTQ+ cause, which Asia Now has always actively endorsed,” Fain said in the statement.
“The problem is neither the artist nor the project, but the organization supporting this project, which uses the LGBTQ+ cause for priority reasons that are other than purely artistic, and which endanger the safety of the people working with us on our Iranian platform,” Fain said. “A threatening organization that strives to create an unpleasant atmosphere which could become dangerous and which we cannot accept, given our obligation to guarantee the public’s safety.”
Days earlier, before the fair opened, the artist Shojaian and the PaykanArtCar organizers reported that their display had been canceled at the request of Iran-based gallerists participating in the fair. Here is a video that Shojaian posted on Instagram at the time.
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The historic 1974 Paykan Hillman Hunter limousine had been a gift from Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (during an official visit to Romania) to then Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, a dictator who would be subsequently overthrown and killed in a bloody revolution in 1989.
Paykan was the first automobile produced in Iran in 1967, and an icon of national pride and industrial capability. Manufactured by Iran National Company, it was based on the 1967 Hillman Hunter built in the UK by the Rootes Group. It remains omnipresent on the streets of Tehran to this day.
The historic Paykan was acquired by PaykanArtCar LLC, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization which aims to periodically commission a different artist of Iranian origin each time to use the car’s surface as a canvas, with each presentation focusing on a human rights abuse in Iran.
“This vehicle once was a dictator’s car, but from this moment forward, it will be known as the PaykanArtCar, restored as a symbol of pride, calling for advancing human rights in Iran,” said Ambassador Mark D. Wallace, Chief Executive Officer of PaykanArt Car LLC.
Shojaian, the artist of the inaugural art car, is a painter and visual activist who was born in Tehran in 1988. His work reflects on the queer history of the Middle East and aims to fight societal prejudice against the LGBT people.
“Living in a society that restricts its citizens from presenting their true, authentic selves, and even outright denies their existence, has caused many in our queer community in the Middle East to live in exile,” Shojaian explained. “Art is a vehicle to express myself and my essence, also to engage others. With the PaykanArtCar, I hope to make visible the beauty and emotion of queer culture that has long been hidden in the region and, in doing so, pave the way for a world that is more open to acceptance and more tolerant.”
The artist moved to Beirut in 2016, where he held two solo exhibitions in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, the French embassy in Lebanon offered him an art residency at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he now resides.
For his painting on the PaykanArt Car, Shojaian was inspired by Iran’s most celebrated epic poem, the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi in the 10th century. The artist used the tragic story of Rostam and his son Sohrab, one of the Shahnameh’s most prominent tales, to comment on the murder in 2021 of a 20-year-old Iranian gay man, Ali Fazeli Monfared, who was beheaded by members of his family in an “honor killing.”
Throughout the car’s world tour, PaykanArtCar LLC will offer Shojaian’s related art for sale, and the proceeds will be used to support Iran’s LGBTQ community.