From the Persian rug to pottery and calligraphy, modern-day Iran has one of the richest art histories in the world. The nation’s vibrant foundation of multidisciplinary art — in conjunction with its turbulent political history — has resulted in a dynamic and sometimes controversial contemporary art scene.

In our last post we discussed influential Iraqi artists; these individuals share many similarities with Persian ones. Iranian artists are producing brilliant and globally impactful work in spite of challenges spurred by the 1979 revolution, and prolonged by Western sanctions.

Here are three contemporary Iranian artists that stand out among the bunch for their genius, vision, and craftsmanship.

Shirin Neshat (b. 1957)

Known for her work in film, video, and photography, Shirin Neshat fled Iran in the 1970s. After studying in California and returning to Iran in 1990, she moved to New York City where she lives and works today.

One of Iran’s most high-profile contemporary artists, much of Neshat’s work explores the notion of Muslim identity and femininity in relation to the rise of fundamentalism in her home country. Her medium reflects Iranian artistic culture, for example, overlaying photographs with Persian calligraphy.


Farhad Moshiri (b. 1963)

Farhad Moshiri, an Iranian artist based in Tehran, is known for hybrid art that juxtaposes traditional Iranian art forms with those of pop culture and consumerism.

His work is textured and playful in appearance, but is dark and complex in its commentary and style: analysts say his art addresses “the flaws of contemporary Iran all while toying with its traditional forms,” and that “he acknowledges the appeal of the western world in addition to its limitations.”


Golnaz Fathi (b. 1972)

Golnaz Fathi is one of few women to study and master traditional Persian calligraphy. Because the practice is so male-dominated, Fathi decided to pursue her artistry out of London where she produces paintings and mixed media works.

Her work infuses imagination and color into the prescriptive rules of the craft, blending abstraction with fundamental techniques. Her renowned art is showcased in permanent collections in museums around the world.


Though challenges remain for Iranian artists over turmoil in the Middle East, such issues can also act as fuel for artistic innovation. The resulting work of contemporary artists is both embedded with the conventions of Persian culture and transformed by the evolving nature of art, identity, and politics.