Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet: Contemporary Persians illuminates the multifaceted histories and identities of Iranians today. Through works of art by Iranian-born artists across three generations, the exhibition sheds light on the rich heritage—as well as the trials and triumphs—of the Iranian people during a period of social and political unrest.
Drawing from the collection of financier and philanthropist Mohammed Afkhami, Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet highlights the unique evolution of contemporary art both in Iran and by Iranian artists who have left their native country. Paintings, sculptures, photographs, and videos by 23 artists express four interwoven themes that transcend standard chronologies.
The mystic current—perhaps the most familiar aspect of contemporary Iranian art—is introduced by two calligraphic works: Mohammad Ehsai’s painting Mohabbat (Kindness) and Parviz Tanavoli’s sculpture Blue Heech (Blue Nothingness). Opposing currents of satire and rebellion are encapsulated in Shirin Aliabadi’s Miss Hybrid 3, a staged photograph exploring the global self-consciousness that characterizes the generation of Iranians who came of age in the Internet era.
Ali Banisadr’s epic We Haven’t Landed on Earth Yet expresses the terror and chaos of war through painterly abstraction, and Farhad Moshiri’s Flying Carpet displays silhouettes of fighter planes cut into traditional carpets, reflecting on the threat of global conflict. Ultimately, an elegiac mood is established through the poetic vistas photographed by Shirin Neshat and Abbas Kiarostami.
Rebel, Jester, Mystic, Poet also features established artists such as Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and Shirazeh Houshiary, as well as emerging talents. The Houston presentation—the exhibition’s U.S. premiere—introduces the work of contemporary artists from Iran into fresh dialogues with new audiences and the wide-ranging MFAH collections.