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Director of Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art on how artistic collaboration can bring Iran and the UK closer

An upcoming show of British contemporary sculpture could be the start of a productive cultural dialogue between Iran and the UK

The idea of holding a major show of internationally renowned British sculpture at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art was first suggested in 2001 when the Third Iranian Sculpture Triennial proved what a fast growing interest there was in the field. This was at a time when there was an overwhelming popular call for reform and democracy which created a positive environment for artists to experience relatively more freedom of artistic expression. This atmosphere encouraged a number of promising young artists who were enthusiastic about embracing new ideas of sculpture and installation, which they found were powerful instruments with which to express issues and ideas.

To react to this momentum, no idea seemed better than to bring British contemporary sculpture to Iran. British Modern and contemporary sculpture is such a remarkable movement. It includes some of the most important artistic achievements of the 20th century and has set a precedent that has influenced, and will continue to influence, a great many artists across the world.

Pioneers such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are indeed peerless personalities of the past century, continuously serving as sources of inspiration for many artists. They undoubtedly made tremendous achievements in explorations of volume. Anthony Caro, Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon and Richard Long each took British contemporary sculpture to a new level and offered a new alternative appreciation of the problems of volume and space. Installation pieces by the likes of Anish Kapoor, Mona Hatoun and Shirazeh Houshyari carry on this momentum and offer new ways of defining three-dimensional space.

It was therefore a great privilege that the British Council generously accepted to collaborate with the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMCA) on such an exhibition, presenting works from its collection and those from several other reputable art institutions. A few works from the TMCA’s collection, including some Henry Moore pieces, would also be included. Thanks to the growing relations between the British Council and the TMCA, as well as the great efforts made by the British Council’s Tehran office, a date for the exhibition was set and plans were made.

The organisation of the show was proceeding apace until the recent political tensions between the British and Iranian governments. To prevent the undesirable political climate damaging the show’s success, both sides judiciously decided to postpone the exhibition that was initially scheduled to open this month. This was obviously a very difficult decision to make, as art is all about people, though sometimes it is used as a means of political gesture. In fact, art could serve as a catalyst to overcome misunderstandings, to bridge gaps, enhance knowledge and provide the grounds for peaceful co-existence among nations of different historical backgrounds. The avenues for cultural exchanges should be kept open to facilitate better understanding and to bring people of different backgrounds closer.

This unexpected change in our plans proves the importance of strengthening the cultural ties between Britain and Tehran, whereby even political differences can be avoided in the light of a firm cultural understanding. Such artistic exchange projects, though seemingly vulnerable now, can play a key role in fostering a more suitable ground for cooperation.

The writer is director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'How artistic collaboration can bring Iran and the UK closer'