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In the late 1950s and early 1960s a group of Iranian artists with broadly similar goals created what is now know as the Saqqa-khaneh school, the first movement in contemporary Iranian art. The term Saqqa-khaneh, coined by the journalist Karim Emami in 1962, describes certain characteristics within a larger neo-traditionalist trend, its artists engaged with symbols drawn from familiar Iranian religious and folk traditions and incorporated these elements into their works. Some of the best-known Iranian artists of the twentieth century passed through this phase in the 1960s, mainly experimental, before refining and reducing the number of elements so that their later works focus more exclusively on figural or calligraphic compositions. Nevertheless, it is their Saqqa-khaneh period, especially during first half of the 1960s which is considered as the seminal moment in twentieth century Iranian art.
Saqqa-khaneh is the Persian phrase for "Drinking-Place" the traditional kind of drinking fountain typically located on many cul-de-sacs in old Tehran. They were often plastered with popular images, texts and such like, creating a patchwork of material. However, the characteristic motifs found in Saqqa-khaneh art comprise far more than just those found at drinking fountains, including elements as diverse as the numerical codes of talismanic shirts, the severed hand of Hazrat Abbas or the Hand of Fatima, and outlines recalling suns, haloes and the 'alams- the iron or bronze ceremonial standards carried during the Shi'ite festival of Ashura.
An important 1977 retrospective exhibition of the group entitled Saqqaakhaneh was held at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art by its first director, Kamran Diba and chief curator, David Galloway. Looking back on many works made during the beginning of the previous decade, visitors to that exhibition could trace the key developments that had then recently transformed Iranian contemporary art. Seeing the Saqqa-khaneh works exhibited together revealed the striking similarities of theme and composition these artists shared during this brief period. Later their styles would diverge, but looking at this earlier phase provided additional insight into their subsequent work.
In his introduction to the exhibition in the catalogue of the same name, Karim Emami cites Pariviz Tanavoli's description of his trip to Shahr-Rey with fellow artist Charles Hossein Zenderoudi. The pair were fascinated by the religious posters they saw on sale, with their simplified forms, repeated motifs and bright colours. Zenderoudi's first sketches based on these posters were the first Saqqa-khaneh works of art.
Because of this use of popular symbols to create works of art relevant to the people at large, Saqqa-khaneh art is sometimes referred to as a kind of "Spiritual Pop Art". As explained in passage by Kamran Diba, the first director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, 'there is a parallel between Saqqa-khaneh and Pop Art, if we simplify Pop Art as and art movement which looks at the symbols and tools of a mass consumer society as a relevant and influencing cultural force. Saqqa-khaneh artists looked at the inner belief sand popular symbols that were part of the religion and culture of Iran, and perhaps, consumed in the same ways as industrial products in the West" (Kamran Diba, "Iran" in Contemporary Art from the Islamic World, Widjan Ali (ed.), London, 1989).
The following lots form perhaps the strongest grouping of works from this period to be presented together since this exhibition. Two of the most important works shown in 1977 are present in the group, a powerful 1962 work by Faramarz Pilaram, and a rare early 1960s painting by Mansour Qandriz, together with works comparable to those in the exhibition by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, Sadegh Tabrizi, Nasser Ovissi, and Massoud Arabshahi.
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