“We owe her a lot,” says the gallerist Salman Matinfar of Farah Pahlavi, Iran’s former empress who patronized the country’s art scene during her 19-year reign, which ended with the onset of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The seeds that the “Queen of Culture” planted in Iran’s artistic infrastructure decades ago are now being reaped by a younger crop of Iranians keen on both taking pride in, and promoting, their country’s artistic output. Despite the country’s relative isolation from the western world, these cultural protagonists have been setting up foundations, curating exhibitions abroad, publishing books, participating at international art fairs, and setting up progressive galleries in Tehran.
This Generation X of the country’s cultural scene are both Tehranians and those in diaspora; the common denominator they share is a fierce pride in their country’s rich heritage and history, and also its contemporary practices. “The reason I got so attached and motivated is because I have not lived in Iran and feel more of a need to reconnect. I think post the Islamic Revolution, Iran has not been correctly portrayed in the media,” says Dina Nasser-Khadivi, a Geneva-based consultant and curator, who just published a comprehensive Skira monograph of Iranian
. “The arts have helped me reconnect.”
For many thirty-something Iranians, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA), established by Pahlavi in 1977 to both institutionally serve Iranian art as well as present Western art, was an education in itself. “TMoCA is for all of us; we all passed through it. Its collection impresses anyone. It’s like a treasure in an abandoned place,” says Hamid Reza Pejman, founder of the Pejman Foundation, established in 2015. “I think many of us became collectors because of TMoCA.”