Writing Alone: Street Art in Post-Revolutionary Iran

By Elizabeth Rauh
Submitted to Session P2057 (Pirated Politics: Contemporary Art, Artists, and the Postproduction of the Middle East, 2009 Annual Meeting
Art/Art Hist
The intent of this paper is to explore how the Iranian artist A1one is adapting the contemporary Street Art movement to the specific cultural context of the Iranian public visual sphere, a highly active and persistently shifting arena bursting with images. Largely working in Tehran and other metropolitan areas, A1one has inserted himself into an urban dialogue alongside the hegemonic visual arts program conducted directly by the government of Iran and its subsidiary organizations. Within these urban environments, the artist is utilizing the various medias typically employed by other street artists, including spray graffiti, stencils, wheatpastes, stickers, and three-dimensional forms, to subversively voice dissent at a time when few channels are open for Iranians to publicly oppose the Islamic Republic’s ideology. Major themes in the artist’s work include icons of globalization and capitalism (particularly the McDonald’s arch), Iranian cultural figures, his integration of Islamic calligraphy and graffiti writing dubbed “Calligraffiti,” and depictions of bombs (as in “Bomb childz”) and other military imagery. By manifesting a differing perspective in the public conscious, his work is illustrating how the current trends of modern street art are suitable for artists with an urgent need to work quickly and anonymously, with viscerally potent results.

Transcending these physical interactions, A1one also manifests his work in the digital landscape. He regularly uploads digital images of his street art in situ to his blog and various websites, allowing a new audience access to his artwork, which would otherwise be unavailable to most people outside of Iran. Bypassing the Islamic Republic’s restrictions on the internet, A1one manages to maintain a strong internet presence which allows for an almost immediate response and appraisal from Iranians and other viewers of his previous night’s work. When taken out of its original context, A1one’s art enters a postproduction of interplaying with and responding to the assumptions and prejudices of global viewers unfamiliar with Iranian artistic traditions.