Tehran is an incredibly vibrant, modern city with L.A-esq elevated highways, an impeccably clean and advert free metro system and a whole host of well-maintained parks and gardens. Throughout the city you can’t help but be astounded at the amount of gigantic murals, mosaics and sculptures all strategically placed and implemented with precision.
Mural painting has long been part of Tehran’s urban background. Prior to the revolution of 1979 the government would emblazon blank walls with their messages. During the revolution both the Shah and the revolutionaries that would eventually topple him used blank walls to propagate their ideas and messages. During the Iran-Iraq war, under the direction of the new prime minister, murals began to appear depicting heroic battle scenes. In post-war Tehran memorial murals of soldiers killed in the war dominate the skyline often looming down over highways from surrounding tower blocks, the faces of the martyrs ascending to heaven!
Thankfully the city’s now colourful image is in part thanks to Tehran Municipality’s Beautification Organization. Since 2004 this non-governmental body has commissioned over 800 murals with the idea of ‘beautifying’ the city. Many of the paintings are colourful, abstract and overtly non-political.
The remaining paintings, most of which have been completed by one prolific artist, are more surreal. With over 100 paintings under his belt Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s huge optically confusing dreamlike masterpieces have come to worldwide attention. His paintings are so popular in Tehran that he has fallen victim to imitators who try and mimic his style.
Ghadyanloo’s mastery of trompe l’oeil is hard to emulate; his paintings, often reminiscent of the dream sequences in Vanilla Sky or Inception, have a wry lucid wit about them. Buildings fold in on themselves; a painted sky merges with reality as flying cars offer a glimpse at a utopian future while gravity-defying humans walk in circles. If an imitator comes close to replicating his style he is certainly not likely to be able to duplicate Ghadyanloo’s wit.
Large grey facades are intersected with glimpses of clear blue skies leaving the unbroken concrete city skyline feeling airier and open. This expression of light and space can be seen as an optimistic glimpse of the future or a visual manifestation of a new attitude embraced by many Tehranis, either way these paintings dominate space that was previously only claimed by the government.