Radical Alternatives: Temporal and Spatial Mediations in Contemporary Iranian Art

Speaker: Professor Pamela Karimi (Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, USA)

Professor Pamela Karimi explores the spatial and temporal turns that have animated Iranian art scenes since the 1990s. She illuminates the economic, social, intellectual, and visceral forces that have driven Iran’s creative agents toward increasingly original forms of site-oriented and durational artmaking. Predominantly ephemeral, most of these artworks don’t enter the global art market, at least not in the conventional sense of the term. Hence, outside their local contexts, these creative enterprises have remained largely unexplored. Played out across private homes, garages, pop-up venues, dilapidated buildings, and other informal platforms, these radically alternative art forms are nonetheless profoundly influential on the ground 

Post-revolutionary places where unconventional and grassroot activities take place, are frequently rendered as the underground, a perception that is highly contested by many artists inside Iran. Indeed, while there is arguably a bit of underground-ness in every artistic event outside the purview of the authorities, nothing is entirely hidden or covert.  Moreover, despite their ostensibly radical characteristics, alternative art forms are not always political or controversial; rather, they convey wide-ranging messages. While some exude social or subversive meanings, others simply undertake novel aesthetic considerations. Through a series of significant case studies, this lecture elucidates an understudied aspect of contemporary Iranian art which is intimately intertwined with everyday life, urban space, and architecture. 


Pamela Karimi is an architectan architectural historian and an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She is the author of Domesticity and Consumer Culture in Iran and co-editor of Images of the Child and Childhood in Modern Muslim Contexts,Reinventing the American Post-Industrial City&The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in the Middle East: From Napoleon to ISIS. Her writings have also appeared in JSAH, Harvard Design Magazine,and ArtMarginsamong others. Karimi’s major curatorial projects include Black Spaces Matter, and Contemporary Iranian Art & the Historical Imagination. In 2018 Karimi received the UMass system’s Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching, and more recently she was the co-recipient of a major grant from the Getty Foundation, which involves extensive research on art historical education in the MENA region. Co-founder of Aggregate Architectural History CollaborativeKarimi currently serves on the editorial and scholarly boards of Thresholds Journal and the Association of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Arab World, Iran, and Turkey, respectively. The current presentation features selected case studies from the research Karimi conducted for a forthcoming monographwhich was partially supported by an Iran Heritage Foundation Fellowship at SOAS. Based on personal interviews with over a hundred artists, gallerists, theatre experts, musicians and designers, the book tells the hitherto understudied stories of alternative art scenes in Iran. 

Organised by Dr Robin Schuldenfrei (The Courtauld)