Israeli Museum Celebrates Iranian Graphic Art

By Ahmad Rafat

An exhibition of contemporary Iranian poster art is currently on in a highly unexpected location: the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. Ending on November 19, the exhibition is a journey into 40 years of graphic art and design from pre- and post-revolutionary Iran. Sign from Iran (which actually coincides with the Holocaust cartoon show in Tehran) consists of 60 posters by 27 internationally recognized Iranian graphic designers.

The L.A. Mayer Museum is today one of Israel’s most active and talked-about cultural centers, thanks to the efforts of Nadim Sheiban – the Israeli-Arab Christian who runs it. Sign from Iran is curated by the prominent Israeli graphic artist Yossi Lemel.

Speaking to Kayhan Life, Yossi Lemel said his attraction to Iran and Iranian culture dated back to his childhood years. “I fell in love with this culture and its age-old history, hearing stories of ancient Persia,” he said. “It was an admiration that intensified during my adolescent years, when I studied Iran’s history and learned about Cyrus, Darius and Cambyses.”

“Having completed my military service some 35 years ago, I made a trip to Turkey and travelled to the Turkish-Iran border. I looked across the border and told myself that, one day, I would find the opportunity to travel to this country,” he recalled. “Thirty-five years have gone by and the opportunity has still not come up. So I have brought Iran to Jerusalem instead.”

Mr. Lemel, himself a poster artist, said he was introduced to the work of Iranian graphic artists and designers at an international biennial in 2002. while attending biennials around the world. “I had the chance to meet a few Iranian artists and, through them, to be introduced to a whole new graphic art world,” he said. “I came up with the idea of showcasing the work of Iranian artists in Israel. The exhibition took years to organize because of the difficulties and bans facing Iranian artists.”

A gallery in Brno, the Czech Republic, helped make the exhibition a reality. At the Brno International Biennial of Graphic Design, Mr. Lemel met the directors of the Moravian gallery, who laid the groundwork for the exhibition.

“They showed me the work of dozens of Iranian graphic artists. The graphic artists were split into three groups: those based in Iran whose work could not be used for the exhibition; those who were unclear if their work could be taken to Jerusalem; and those whose work had been sold to galleries and collectors and could therefore be shown in Jerusalem without exposing them to any danger.” The Jerusalem exhibition consists of work by artists from the third group.

Sign for Iran opens with the works of Morteza Momayez and Ghobad Shiva, the “fathers” of poster art in Iran, and moves on to those of the next generation like Reza Abedini, Ehsan Parsa, Majid Abbasi and Mehdi Haghshenas. “One look at these posters is enough to grasp the depth of Iranian culture,” said Mr. Lemel. “These designs are a synthesis of Eastern and Western art and culture, and they’re interesting for that very reason. Iranian artists do an excellent job of showing the cultural and artistic parallels between Eastern and Western art, and that’s why their works have won international recognition.”

Visitors to the show fall into two groups, according to Mr. Lemel: “Israeli-Iranians, a community of 250,000 people who appreciate anything coming out of Iran, and Israelis who want to better understand this so-called enemy.”

“Reading about the existential threat posed by Iran and its nuclear program in the press, many Israelis have become curious about Iran’s culture, and fans of Iranian music, cinema, painting and books,” he noted. “The purpose of this exhibition is to shed light on the culture and people of Iran, who have a lot to say about art, literature and cinema. We must set aside the clichés and value the culture and humanism of Iranians.”