Art on Tehran’s streets

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It might be making a dent in the city’s coffers, but there is no doubt that it would improve the commute no end: some 1,500 city-owned billboards across Tehran, which like their kind in any of the world’s cities normally carry disparate and often clunky advertisements, are currently displaying reproductions of famous artwork from around the world. From Monet’s Rouen Cathedral to Rembrandt’s Landscape with a Stone Bridge and Ogata Korin’s Flowering Plants in Autumn, the decision has effectively transformed the Iranian capital into a giant open-air exhibition. During this 10-day interlude, 200 copies of work by international masters are claiming citizens’ attention against some 500 works by Iranian artists. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei goes to work passing by a representation of the 19th century Indian Fisherman, by Albert Bierstadt, which stands just a few blocks away from his office.

The idea provides reason to dwell, once again, on the fact that though Iran is similarly if not more faith-oriented as Pakistan, it remains proud of its interest in culture and history. While the showcasing of work by Iranian artists is to be expected, the fact that world masters are included sends out the signal that this country will not reject the cultural or artistic traditions of others merely on the basis of them being foreign. That is something that speaks volumes for the confidence of society and perhaps of the state itself. In Pakistan, unfortunately, the situation is completely reversed, with merely the circumstance of a cultural production or idea being non-native enough to provoke unthinking rejection. Consider, for example, the amount of time put in to delineate Pakistani culture from that which is across the border to the east, even though the entire subcontinent draws its roots from a connected place. This could be interpreted as a result of Pakistan’s colonial and subsequent history; but it could also be symptomatic of a basic lack of confidence at the level of the self and the state. –Dawn

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