Epic Iran at V&A

Ina Sarikhani Sandmann on Redefining Iran at the V&A

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A new exhibition explores 5,000 years of Iranian art, design and culture

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On this week’s episode of Break Out Culture, Ed Vaizey and Charlotte Metcalf chat to art collector Ina Sarikhani Sandmann about the V&A’s new exhibition, Epic Iran.

Ina Sarikhani Sandmann on Epic Iran at the V&A

Charlotte: Start by telling us why Epic Iran is so important…

Iran has had an unbroken production of culture at the very highest level for many thousands of years. It’s a real misnomer of the west because if you want to see ancient Iranian art you have to go to the BM (British Museum) and go to this gallery called the Ancient Near East. And if you want to see medieval Iranian art then you have to go to the V&A and go to this place called the Islamic Art Gallery, which isn’t devotional artists but just art from countries whose official religion is Islam. And then if you want to see temporary Iranian you go to the Tate Modern. What inevitably happens is that the connections between those centuries of art is lost. So what we have here is an opportunity to show that this art and culture is connected. It has reinvented itself, but the Iranian identity is really tenacious.

Epic Iran at the V&A

Shirin Aliabadi, Miss Hybrid, 2008

Ed: I gather there’ve been lots of treasures that have been unearthed in the last few years in Iran. But obviously the political relations between our country and Iran are not terrific. And no Iranian art institution has actually lent objects to this exhibition. How did it all come about?

You must bear in mind that we have really good relationships with our partner institutions in Iran, both with the National Museum of Iran and with artists who live there. We had hoped to borrow from the National Museum of Iran – but it’s not really a diplomatic issue. It’s a combination of sanctions which have made issues of transportation and insurance so difficult. And then the COVID outbreak. However, there are 32 lenders to this exhibition. We have the great museums of the world, the Met, the Hermitage, the Louvre, as well as all the great British lenders including the Queen.

Epic Iran at the V&A

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmian, Untitled, 1974.

Ed: Tell us a bit about how the show has been laid out…

It’s a really enjoyable experience. We start with huge heavy screens depicting aerial shots of the landscape of Iran, because it has so many different climactic zones. And then as you progress through the exhibition, you get to see different elements, whether it’s Persepolis, the gardens, the library, the palaces and mosques, and get a sense of the many varieties of physical spaces that exist within Iran itself.

Charlotte: Can you tell us a bit more about the contemporary section?

What’s interesting in the final section is how dynamic and exciting the works are being produced by Iranian artists in the 21st century. Whether they’re living in Iran or in exile or struggling between the two, they are pushing their own identity and challenging themselves and their viewers by addressing issues of gender and politics and spirituality and religion, and what it means to be human. We’re showing their work at the very highest level across a number of media. We have films, sculpture, painting, photography, installation work and animation.

You can listen to the full episode here. Epic Iran is on now at the V&A until 12 September. vam.ac.uk

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