Iranian exiles Icy and Sot brought together the two communities they know best by organizing two simultaneous gallery openings on Friday night, one in Brooklyn featuring 10 Iranian street artists and the other in Tehran, showcasing 35 NYC-based graffiti artists.
At TBA in Williamsburg, the Iranian works ranged from Hoshvar and PST’s conventional bubble letter tags to the art of Ck1 and Nafir, incorporating traditional patterns like mosaics and Farsi calligraphy.
The show at Seyhoun Art Gallery opened first, since Tehran is eight and a half hours ahead; time-lapse footage projected at the Williamsburg opening showed a packed crowd, as many took advantage of the rare opportunity to skirt Islamic restrictions against Western culture.
“There aren’t that many street art shows in Iran, especially with foreign artists,” Icy and Sot explained.
None of the 35 NYC graffiti artists featured in Tehran could attend the show there, since Iranian visas are difficult to obtain on short notice.
Icy and Sot made sure the work sent to Iran contained no nudity or profanity, since the country’s customs officers check packages for non-Islamic content. But some of it referenced Iran: Gilf’s piece depicts war planes dropping pink heart signs on to Tehran’s city skyline and Hell Bent’s geometric and vibrantly patterned work is titled after the Iranian band The Yellow Dogs. Two of the band’s members, Arash and Soroush Farazmand, were shot and killed in November of last year, while their friends Icy and Sot were in the building.
Christopher Yerington and James Rubio, of Contemporary Adult Music, showed “War for Peace,” in which a blonde Shirley Temple-esque girl named Lily holds her own cut-off head. Instead of blood, lightning bolts, an angel wing, and a rainbow light the scene that touches on peace, love, and war.
“In a way, the piece is kind of a peace offering,” Rubio said. “We didn’t build the barriers. We didn’t create the government. We didn’t wall us off from visiting other places. We don’t want that. Art is universal. Art can make the world new.”
Icy and Sot have become the faces of Iran’s growing street art movement. The success has much to do with their work not just relying on classic Iranian iconography, but speaking more to a global street art culture that goes beyond the boxes of East and West.
Their stencils touch on everything from childhood innocence to political satire. “Freedom” shows a female figure covered in the illusion of a black hijab, actually made up of birds sitting on tree branches. Some of the birds fly off from the pack, possibly symbolizing Iranian women who seek freedom from Islamic dress.
The two brothers from the northwest city of Tabriz started stenciling the streets of Iran as teenagers. After several brushes with the authorities, they were invited to attend “Made in Iran,” their first solo show in New York, where they sought political asylum in 2012.
Now in their twenties, the two recently created “Subway Dance,” a mural depicting a breakdancer busting moves through a train car, for the mural project at Governor’s Ball. They’re now working on a group show featuring Iranian street artists FRZ, ILL and MAD, opening in Amsterdam in September.