Tara Gallery Founder Prefers Art to Aerospace

By Susanna Huth

To the average person, Iran and contemporary art don’t necessarily go together. That’s something Homa Taraji is determined to change. Based in L.A., she is director of the Tara Gallery and co-founder of the American Foundation for Contemporary Iranian Art.

The Tara Gallery opened its doors in 2003 with a mission to showcase Iranian artists in the U.S. The gallery operates primarily through its website and blog, with works presented annually at pop-up exhibitions. Kayhan London recently caught up with its founder.

Homa Taraji Photograph: AP/Kevork Djansezian

What made you get involved in art?

I am an engineer by education, and had a long career in aero-science. However, back in 2001, I felt that I needed to do something with art. I went to Iran after 15 years and found that art had flourished. I didn’t expect that.

I understood why it happened. When there [are limitations within] society, art becomes a means of expressing views. Secondly, given that Western-style Internet was banned in Iran, a lot of kids took to art as a pastime and became great artists.

When I saw this, I knew I had to bring this outside Iran. At that point, there was not a lot of representation of Iranian artists in the U.S. Artists back in Iran were struggling to get noticed.

“Untitled” 2013 by B Vakili 27 1/2″ x 39 1/2″ (70 x 100 cm, mixed media on canvas.

So in 2003, I established the Foundation of Contemporary Iranian Arts. I then started to organize exhibitions, in Los Angeles, then Boston, then New York. These exhibitions did very well. People really began to  take notice when Christie’s opened an auction house in Dubai featuring artworks from Iran.

After your long career in space programs, what made you jump into art?

I loved art and took a lot of art classes in high school but in Iran, at the time I was growing up, everyone had to be a doctor or an engineer. When I got accepted to Tehran University to study physics, I couldn’t tell my dad that I wanted to do art instead.

“Rain” 2014 by H Khosrojerdi: 35 1/2″ x 53″ (90x135cm), acrylic pen on cardboard.

I continued with physics, and in 1975, I came to the U.S to complete my Masters. I then got my first job with a NASA jet propulsion laboratory and the aerospace corporation in California. I continued with that until 2001, when I finally decided that I needed some balance. That’s when I began spending more time on art.

Why did you choose to focus on contemporary art?

Contemporary art is the area that appeals most to me. All my life, whenever I would go abroad or on a trip, I would always leave an extra day for viewing contemporary and modern art. After a while, I started developing a real eye for good art.

What type of work do you show in your exhibitions?

We mostly show paintings made with different mediums. We primarily show the work of young up-and-coming artists. However, some of the work is by established artists.

What kind of audience do you have?

I would say the majority are Iranians. However, I also have an American audience. When we used to have a physical gallery, Americans would always comment on how surprised they were by the artwork.

How do you find your artists? Do they come to you or do you go to them?

A lot of artists write to me and send me samples of their work. So if it’s what we are looking for, then we accept to show it.

“Yellow Trees” 1980 by Y Ammamehpitch: 14 3/4″ x 10 1/4″ (40 x 26 cm), oil on canvas.

I also go to Iran once or twice a year. My friends who are artists introduce me to people whose work I might be interested in. I also work in close collaboration with the organizers of art auctions in Iran.

Do you mainly show work by Iranian artists who live in the U.S., or Iranian artists who reside in Iran?

Our focus is primarily artists who live in Iran, as they are the ones who tend to have less exposure. We do, however, occasionally showcase the work of U.S.-Iranian artists.

Are there challenges working on an international level with art?

Initially, that was the case, as we are a nonprofit organization. However, we are a licensed charity, so there is little difficulty now.

Any exhibitions we should be looking out for?

We are always selling artwork on our website, and at the moment we’re trying to organize some pop-up shows.

“Tree” 2013 by A Vakili: 31 1/2″ x 47 1/4″ (80 x 120 cm), acrylic on canvas.