New Showcase for Iranian Art, CAMA Gallery, Launches in London

By T. Zareenkoub

A new gallery showcasing the art of Iran and the Middle East had its launch in London recently. The CAMA (Contemporary and Modern Art) Gallery aims to promote artists from those parts of the world both online and in physical exhibition spaces.

During the launch event at the Hotel Café Royal in London, CAMA Gallery displayed an extensive collection of works by Iranian master artists, including Sohrab Sepehri, Bahman Mohasses (dubbed the ‘Persian Picasso’), Monir Farmanfarmaian and Parviz Tanavoli.

In addition to featuring the crème de la crème of contemporary Iranian artists, CAMA aims to provide a platform for emerging talents from diverse backgrounds. The gallery showcases approximately 270 works by 81 artists.

Its co-founders are Riley Frost and Mona Khosheghbal, a Tehran-based curator and the project’s creative mind who, crucially, has experience of the Iranian art scene. The project has taken two years to get off the ground.

“It’s like Andy Warhol never being able to leave New York, and then all of a sudden you have been able to get 30 Andy Warhol’s in London,” Frost told Kayhan Life.

Sanctions against Iran, the country’s rocky relationship with the West, and the Trump administration’s travel ban are reasons why it has been difficult for art galleries to showcase Iranian art. Additionally, in Iran, any art form – be it painting, music, or film – must first go through the rigorous process of being assessed, approved and granted a permit by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Despite the many challenges, Riley and his co-founder seized the opportunity to go ahead with the creation of CAMA.

“The Iranian authorities are very positive about what we’re doing,” Riley explained, noting that “we can show Iran in a better light.”

He said the reason why the gallery had taken two years to establish was because of the difficulties of getting “art from one country to another,” given that sanctions on Iran are in place.

Of the 81 artists represented by CAMA on their website, only 15 – or 18 percent – are women. They include Bita Vakili, Elahe Khatami, Farideh Shahbazi, Farzaneh Azar, Maryam Salour, Maneli Manouchehri, Mojgan Habibi, Monir Farmanfarmaian, Najva Erfani, Pegah Lari, Samira Alborzkouh, Selina Pouria, Shaghayegh Shojaian, Soghra Hosseini and Zeynab Movahed.

That’s fewer than the 31 percent ratio of female artists represented by London’s 134 commercial galleries, according to the Great East London Art Audit by the East London Fawcett (ELF) – a branch of The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading campaigner for gender equality.

Asked about CAMA’s plans to tackle gender equality, Riley said he didn’t agree with positive discrimination towards female artists as an approach to tackling their lack of representation in the arts industry. Yet he added that the gallery had plans to address the issue through the CAMA foundation – the philanthropic arm of CAMA – which he and the team are aiming to start working on in April 2018.

Beyond Iran and the Middle East, the founders hope to expand globally and showcase talent from other diverse backgrounds and regions. The plan now is to venture into another “misunderstood” country, said Frost. He identified Russia as one such country on his radar.

He said that while he used email, phone and LinkedIn networks in his business, in places such as Russia – where social networks such as LinkedIn are blocked – it becomes increasingly hard to locate art curators and galleries to collaborate with.

Even so, Frost said he was upbeat about CAMA’s plans to use the power of art to knock down barriers.