Arts & Entertainment

Tehran’s muralism: state propaganda, martyrdom and urban art

By Jaime Leon

Tehran, Feb 1 (EFE).- The walls of Tehran are an organic art display bursting with political and religious messages through the portraits of stern-looking religious leaders, war martyrs, vibrant birds and striking geometric shapes.

The bustling Iranian capital, home to some eight million inhabitants, is the backdrop of around 700 murals that amid the dense pollution give strokes of color to the city and serve as a means of state communication, indoctrination and a gentle reminder of who rules the roost.

“Mural painting is an art that has a deep bond with Iranian culture,” Tehran Beautification Organization Director, Reza Sayadi, tells Efe.

Sayadi explains that his job description is to beautify the capital, highlight “national and religious interests” and showcase “important religious personalities”.

Grandiose portraits of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are scattered across the country and Tehran, sending a clear message to Iranians.

In many of the massive murals, their faces tower over pedestrians who have to look up to fully view them, as is the case with one artwork featured on the Ministry of Agriculture building, which is 22 stories high and located in Jihad Square.

“It’s normal that mural paintings, just as with urban art, sometimes have a political message,” Sayadi says.

“Sometimes a message of friendship is conveyed”, others “it is necessary to remind people of crimes that have been committed against the Iranian nation,” the director adds.

The crimes Sayadi is talking of are the ones the United States has allegedly perpetrated in Iran.

Hundreds of murals targeting the US are scattered around the city, including one on the old US embassy.

The embassy, which in 1979 was at the epicenter of a hostage crisis when 52 US officials spent 444 days in detention, today is a canvass bursting with anti-American art.

In one mural the American flag is made up of skulls and armed soldiers, in another the Statue of Liberty has had her arm severed.

Another popular motif on Tehran’s walls is images of martyrs, a culture deeply rooted in Shia Islam and propped up by the Iranian theocratic system.

Martyrs encapsulate a broad range of people, from those who died in combat during the war with Iraq (1980-1988) to nuclear scientists allegedly killed by Israel.

The image of an injured martyr being cradled by an imam decorates the entire wall of a building on the Modarres highway.

Nearby, a gigantic portrait of a journalist who died in a military plane crash in 2005 also blankets an entire facade.

But it is not just politics and religion emblazoned on Tehran’s walls.

Traditions are also boldly featured by the city’s budding urban art scene, such as the red goldfish which represent life during Iranian New Year celebrations.

Vibrant flowers also abound, as do colorful geometric shapes, delicate Persian imagery and calligraphy or warriors from by-gone times.

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