Iranian galleries introduce the country’s contemporary art to new collectors at The Armory Show

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Two galleries from Iran are taking part in The Armory Show this year, providing a crucial international platform amid ongoing domestic unease. A protest movement set off by the death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police nearly a year ago has been met by increasingly violent government suppression.

Sarai Gallery, established in 2018 and based in Mahshahr, is showing a solo stand dedicated to the Iranian artist Abbas Nasle Shamloo, who is known for his sombre depictions of nature and landscapes. The gallery takes part in around ten art fairs each year and is largely focused on selling internationally rather than in Iran, founder Hassan Saradipour says.

“One of our main goals is to show Iranian artists and introduce Iranian talent all over the world,” Saradipour says. In 2021, the gallery won the fair’s Presents Booth Prize for its stand featuring works by Moslem Khezri.

Saradipour says visitors are often surprised to see galleries from Iran at international fairs, particularly in the US because of sanctions placed on the country in 2019. The art market is not specifically named in the US sanctions, but they can complicate some aspects of operating a gallery, like wiring money to and from international bank accounts.

Taking part in so many art fairs over the years has helped Sarai Gallery and others raise Iranian artists’ profiles in the international art market, Saradipour says. The Armory Show in particular is “one of the best”, he says, because of its reach within the US market.

Hormoz Hematian, who founded Tehran-based gallery Dastan in 2012, agrees The Armory Show’s position in New York allows galleries access to “so many curious and interested people who come from around the world to see art”.

Dastan’s stand focuses on work by artists of Iranian heritage, including Nicky Nodjoumi (whom Hematian describes as “one of the legends of Iranian art”); Andisheh Avini, who also works as a senior director at Gagosian; and Reza Aramesh, a visual artist based in London.

“They bring attention to traces of a really ancient culture that has a wealth of history with visual arts, and their work is an extension of that lineage,” Hematian says.

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