Leading Iranian artist accused by authorities of disturbing the peace

Parviz Tanavoli faces allegations in Tehran court as part of government clampdown

The leading Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli says that he is facing criminal charges in Tehran after he was barred from travelling to London last weekend (2 July). Tanavoli’s passport was confiscated by border officials at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport; he was subsequently unable to attend a talk on 3 July at the British Museum.

Tanavoli, who divides his time between Tehran and Vancouver, says in an email: “Yes, I am accused by the police. The accusations are that my art is based on 'spreading the falsehood' and 'creating public anxiety'. On 10 July I went to court with my lawyer and I was given the above allegations.” The artist may face a fine or possibly imprisonment. 

“As certain elements of the Iranian regime push for closer relations with the West, other forces within the government push back. And often it is the artists, whose work is well known across Iran's borders, who get caught in the crossfires,” says a source close to Tanavoli. “As Iran tries to open up tourism and business channels to the West, such moves are chilling.” Officials at the Iranian embassy in London declined to comment.

Tanavoli is known for pioneering a new form of Pop art in Iran in the 1960s. Next March, an exhibition dedicated to the artist, entitled The Lion in Iran and the Art of Parviz Tanavoli, is due to open at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran.

Meanwhile, the lecture at the British Museum, which focused on Tanavoli’s book European Women in Persian Houses, went ahead without the artist. The book, published by IB Tauris, examines why wealthy households in Iran at the turn of the 20th century collected and incorporated prints of glamorous, unveiled European women into the architecture of houses and residences.