Iranian poster art goes on display at Jerusalem museum

In marked contrast to Iran’s anti-Semitic Holocaust cartoon contest, Israel’s Islamic art institute pays tribute to Persian history

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Posters featured in 'Sign from Iran,' the new exhibit that opened at Jerusalem's Museum of Islamic Art on May 19, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Posters featured in 'Sign from Iran,' the new exhibit that opened at Jerusalem's Museum of Islamic Art on May 19, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

It took a curator from a gallery in Brno in the Czech Republic working with an Israeli graphic artist to bring 60 original Iranian art posters for exhibition in Jerusalem’s Museum for Islamic Art.

The exhibit, “Sign from Iran,” displays the remarkable works of 27 Iranian artists and graphic designers. The works — consisting of posters — were used over the last 40 years to advertise various events in Iran, from theater performances and political statements to public service announcements and art exhibits.

It’s the first time, however, that they’re being displayed together in an exhibit, said Marta Sylvestrová, curator of the Moravian Gallery in Brno, a “small, boutique museum” in the Czech Republic’s second-largest city. Sylvestrová curated the Iranian poster exhibit together with Yossi Lemel, an Israeli poster artist, and also worked with the Trnava Poster Triennial from Slovakia.

It was Lemel who first came up with the idea of the exhibit, after he visited the Brno museum. He then suggested a retrospective of Iranian poster art to Nadim Sheiban, director of the Museum for Islamic Art.

A scale-covered banana, for an HIV poster from 2009 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
A scale-covered banana, for an HIV poster from 2009 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The Jerusalem museum is the right address for this particular exhibit, said Sheiban, who has directed the museum since 2014, and is looking to bring in new audiences.

The Islamic Museum of Art is housed in the elegant former home of the Solomon family, a British family who built the house in 1965 and then bequeathed it as an Islamic art museum because of their own interest in Islamic art. The museum, which is located between the President’s residence and the Jerusalem Theater, now houses several permanent exhibits, but the emphasis is on more current, changing exhibitions.

For the local audience, the “Sign from Iran” exhibit is also an opportunity to appreciate something other than the endless stream of “bad news” emerging from Iran, said Sheiban.

The posters are works of art, paying tribute to Persian history, culture and script, while melding ancient artistic techniques with modern art trends and digital fonts.

The exhibit opens with works by Morteza Momayez and Ghobad Shiva, considered “fathers” of modern Iranian poster art, said Sylvestrová. Their posters, particularly those from the 1970s, are sharp and almost psychedelic in their use of imagery and color.

Reza Abdeni's iconic silhouette, covered with Arabic and Farsi writing (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Reza Abedini’s iconic silhouette, covered with Persian and Latin writing (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Reza Abedini, considered the first Iranian graphic artist to buck the trends of Iran’s national visual style, is present here with several works, including “Siyah Mashgh” (2004), considered a seminal work for its use of a silhouette of himself, covered in Persian and Latin script.

There are the works of younger artists as well, said Sheiban, including Homa Delvaray, who is part of the Dabireh Collective, a group of young, innovative Iranian artists brought together by Abedini, and is known for her interplay of Arabic and Persian writing in her striking, modern pieces.

With works considering women’s sexuality, HIV, politics and human rights, as well as Iranian women, coexistence and multiculturalism, the exhibit shows the other side of Iranian society, said Sheiban.

There are no posters here exhibiting the typical Iranian cartoons lampooning the Holocaust, or other derogatory, anti-Semitic sentiments. But there was still some sensitivity with regard to displaying Iranian art in an Israeli museum, said Sheibhan. Some of the artists know that their works are being displayed in Jerusalem, others don’t, he said.

“We didn’t want to endanger anyone,” he said. “It’s not worth it. If we thought anyone would suffer, then we would err on the safe side.”

“Sign from Iran,” May 19 – November 19, Museum for Islamic Art, 2 Hapalmach Street, Jerusalem, 02-566-1291. Open Monday – Wednesday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday – Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

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