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Tehran's Art Scene: Afshan Ketabchi and Andy Warhol's "Everyone will be famous for 15 minutes"

By Syma Sayyah, Tehran

Recently I had the opportunity to see the works of another provocative artist, again a lady, in Tehran's Golestan gallery. I was astounded when I walked into the gallery last week to see the works of Afshan Ketabchi whose motto for the show was a line from Andy Warhol everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. She had used the technique of Warhol and done the most interesting exhibition on Iranian well known faces including the president, Mr. Khatami, and the actress Ms. Hediyah Tehrani. Faces and pictures from ordinary life as well as art and politics including a huge one of Mrs. Ebadi. There were two of Kaveh Golestan, a few small ones with such unusual yet ordinary objects as a Ghoosht-Koub (meat-masher).

Among the works were also a double one of Mr. Kiaroustami (the film maker) and another double of Mr. Samie-Azar (the head of Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art). There was also one of the late Takhtie (the wrestler) and of late Mrs. Zahra Kazemi (the Canadian-Iranian Photographer). There was a work of the twin sisters Ladan and Laleh who did not survive their separation operation last year. Of course there were four self portraits which were on the invitation cards as one work, for all the good and bad comments that may go her way.

Afshan is a lively lady, and she told me that last year in Las Vegas she attended an Andy Warhol exhibition, and since then she could not rest and images of the show kept coming into her mind except the faces were all Iranians. So when she got back she got to work.

Her costume during the show was all in pink and a lively blue. It was so cool and bright that one could only feel the joy of her face and smile, even without looking at her.

She told me that she has been working since she was a young girl and now she is a mother of two. They are 16 and 11 years old. Her husband who was present during most of the exhibition, I was told is most supportive of her work and artistic endeavors. She said that when she was working for this exhibition she listened to modern pop music, and she generally goes for fast music and not so much of the soft easy listening kind. She is physically very active too and loves sports and is fond of swimming and skiing.

She has had many mixed exhibitions with other artists. This one was her third individual show. She has done installations before too, the first one in year 2000. when I asked her how she came about to choose the people in the works presented, she told me that we live in a very diverse society and she is a very diverse person too, and in her work she tries to show this diversity and commonality at the same time; people or things that most of us may know, hear, feel or think about, in our daily lives. This may explain why there is such a vast difference between the subjects of her works. Here she has a picture of a father carrying his dead daughters after the earthquake in Bam; next a picture of series of bottles covering the whole canvass. She had decided to withdraw two of her works from the exhibition, in order not to upset the sensitivity of some. From the numbers of works that were sold and the different people that came to see them, I must say this was a very successful exhibition. No wonder that when I asked her what natural entity she would associate herself with, she said Damavand Mountain.

During this exhibition, out of the blue we came up with an idea to do some fund-raising. We called a few people, and one of the leading magazine publishers and a former member of Ayandehgan newspaper bought one of the paintings in a sort of closed up telephone auction and donated Ten Million Rials (about US$1200) towards another NGO that I am involved with, the Kaveh Golestan Annual Photo Journalist Award (KGPJA). This very kind and generous gentleman keeps it a secret as where he wants the picture of Mr. Khatami to be eventually hung. By the way for your information, just a few days ago the time for acceptance of the works to KGPJA competition came to an end. The winners will be announced on 30th September, at the Artists' Forum- khaneh honarmandan- in Tehran.

Furthermore, with my friend Diana on behalf of Bam program, we are to organize an auction for Afshan Ketabchi's portrait of Mrs. Ebadi, at the end of September in London, during her visit to England. All the proceedings will go towards the Bam project, building a Resource Center for Women there. You may read about the project at

I must add that we have been so lucky with this scheme, not only Diana and her friends will help with the auction and clearing the picture from customs during Mrs. Ebadi's stay there, but also Lufthansa - the German Airline - has offered to transport the painting free of charge to London, as a gift and contribution towards the well being of people in Bam.

We are lucky two fold as with the help of my dear art teacher and university professor Mr. Severi, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art has agreed to build and ship this work to London as it is for such a good cause. I thank all those involved, past and future, deeply and sincerely for their kind efforts and good wishes.

By the way any bidders for the pictures, we take offers...

... Payvand News - 6/24/04 ... --

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