Winter 2006

Iran’s tantalising visual revolution [extract]

New Visual Culture of Modern Iran by Reza Abedini and Hans Wolbers

Design by Lava
BIS Publishers, €39; Mark Batty, Publisher, USD 49.95

This survey of new Iranian design work is exciting and frustrating in roughly equal measure. It is exciting because Iranian graphic design is some of the most impressive happening today, and this is the first collection aimed at international readers. In the past few years, Iranian designers have won admiring attention overseas, though to date most of this has come from non English-speaking countries, particularly France. Iranian designers exhibit regularly in international poster festivals, join international design organisations such as AGI and promote their work through groups such as the Iranian Graphic Designers Society and The 5th Color.

Two of the best, Majid Abbasi and Reza Abedini, were included in Area, Phaidon’s compendious global survey of graphic design, published in 2003. Abedini, professor of graphic design at Tehran University and recipient of this year’s prestigious Prince Claus Award, worth a hefty 100,000 euros, is the force behind New Visual Culture of Modern Iran, in collaboration with Dutch designer Hans Wolbers, who describes his own inspiring introduction to the culture, on a recent visit to Iran, in the foreword.

The frustration comes from the fact that, while the images are always fascinating and sometimes stunning, the book tells us little about what we are looking at. A brief, rather general introduction by Abedini sketches in the Persian historical background to contemporary Iranian design, but there are no dates to anchor anything – how many non-Iranians would know when the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties were? – or concrete information about who did what, when, or why? The book has a tendency, too, to lump everything together as ‘Iranian visual art’. It may be that the categorical distinctions that still hold sway elsewhere matter less in Iran, but if this is so, and if it is significant for the way that graphic design is perceived and used, then it ought to be spelt out. Abedini’s Dutch publisher should have pressed him for the details that a western readership needs to understand the work’s context and motivations… [EXTRACT]

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