Summer 2009

Drawing aside the veil over Tehran

Urban Iran

By Charlotte Noruzi (creative director). With essays by Salar Abdoh, Brian Ackley, Sina Araghi, Coco Ferguson, Sohrab Mohebbi and Karan Reshad
Mark Batty Publisher, £16.95

[This is an edited extract from Eye 72. To order the full, printed magazine click the online shop button or ‘Subscribe’.]

Urban Iran is deceptive; with its black and white, roughly scrawled and embossed title over a photograph showing stencilled graffiti, one is easily deceived into believing this is another of those fashionable street art compilations ubiquitous today.

On the contrary, while Urban Iran showcases its share of guerrilla graphic art, it is much more visual cultural history than eye candy. Moreover, it contains a distinctly intimate narrative about Tehran, which in the prejudiced eyes of many westerners is rigidly proscribed by – and a wellspring of – Islamic fundamentalism. In reality, Iran is a complex culture rooted in many western influences instituted by the Shah, uprooted by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s religious revolution, yet mitigated by a distinct, if underground, popular culture. But what makes Urban Iran unique is the emotional tenor of its writing. This is neither a propaganda screed nor a celebration of tourist highlights; instead the book enables the western reader to peer into a culture, through the lens of graphic art, that most of us will never experience first hand.

The book should, however, be forgiven for a deliberate lack of focus, suggesting it is more of a journal or catalogue than a continuous narrative. The contents jump from a survey of graffiti to a paean to the Peugeot 206 (the most popular family car in Iran), to life in Ekbatan (the Shah’s huge and oppressive western-style housing development built in the 1970s), to a disquisition on the role of beards as rebellion, to underground music and to illustrated books in Iran.

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