Magic of Persia

Remembering Tomorrow

An evening in support of contemporary Iranian art and the ‘magic’ of the Persianate world

This February marked a first for Shirley Elghanian & co. Over a decade since she established her nonprofit organisation, the Magic of Persia Foundation in 2004, she and her colleagues held an exhibition of contemporary Iranian art not in London or Los Angeles, but in Tehran. To top things off, they’ll be holding their annual charity gala and auction this year in Dubai, which will coincide – as usual – with the maelstrom of art-related happenings and events that rock the emirate around the Persian New Year, and also be accompanied by an exhibition. 34 lots by some of Iran’s leading contemporary artists, such as Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Koorosh Shishegaran, and Ali Akbar Sadeghi are set to go under the hammer, as are ones by emerging artists supported by the Foundation; and, if things aren’t exciting enough, a ‘surprise’ piece by Shirin Neshat will also find its way into the hands of a lucky bidder. Titled Remembering Tomorrow (Be Yad-e Farda), the exclusive March 13th event is, well … exclusive. Though attendees are hand-picked, plates are nonetheless $1,000 per head; but the fabulous art on display, the promoted cause, as well as the surprise REORIENT has in store for those who’ll be there will all make it dough well spent.


Remembering ‪Tomorrow … how does one do that? Remembering what happened today is difficult enough for me.

Yes, I know! I love the name of the exhibition. It gets you thinking, and I do think that the only way possible to ‘remember tomorrow’ is to actually create tomorrow today. At Magic of Persia, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. By documenting what we do today, we have a direct impact on what happens with future generations.

The first stop of the exhibition was Tehran’s Niavaran Cultural Centre  – was this a first for Magic of Persia? I haven’t heard of any other events of yours held in Tehran before. 

This was a first for Magic of Persia, and I had been dreaming of this day ever since I first founded the charity 12 years ago. Having our first event in our homeland has been so exciting for us! We also really liked the idea of the Niavaran Cultural Centre, as it is an institution and not a gallery. We try to keep our collaborations quite institutional, as they provide such a strong platform for the artists. This is why we have been so proud to collaborate with institutions such as the British Museum, the Royal Academy of Arts, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, for example.

Navid Shahneshin

Navid Shahneshin – Untitled

Aside from Dubai, where else will the exhibition tour? As well, whose works will you be featuring?

For now, Tehran and Dubai are the only two locations in which the works have and will be shown – even though we display them in Dubai each year to coincide with the annual Art Dubai fair. The auction itself will feature a combination of established and emerging artists working across a range of media, from the likes of living legends such as Nicky Nodjoumi and Koorosh Shishegaran to hot young artists such as Newsha Tavakolian and Leila Pazooki and emerging ones like Firouz Farmanfarmaian. We are also thrilled to have a super-special auction lot in the form of a bespoke commissioned piece donated by none other than the amazing Shirin Neshat. Can you imagine getting your portrait done by the inimitable Shirin? She is one of the most generous artists we know, and the last time she donated a bespoke piece, it went under the hammer for us at $120,000. We are beyond excited to have another donation from her!

Darvish Fakhr

Darvish Fakhr – Roya

I can only imagine that it would be far more glamorous and exciting than having my Iranian passport photo taken in Tehranto. The guest list sounds quite snazzy. Can you give us any clues as to who will be there this year? Not that we’re encouraging anyone to crash the party … 

As with every year, my dear friend, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan will be the keynote speaker. He has supported Magic of Persia since its inception in 2004, when he was the keynote speaker at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Most of our donating artists will also be in attendance, as well as a few others such as Y.Z. Kami and Hassan Hajjaj.

Ooh la la. Please say hello to Hassan for me. OK – what is, exactly, the ‘magic’ of Persia? And why ‘Persia’, as opposed to the ancient and indigenous name of the country – Iran?

Anyone who has come across Persian culture – from its art and literature, to its music, and even its food – will agree that there is no other word that describes it better than ‘magical’. Persia and the Persianate world are where the magic is!

Abo Shahi

Abo Shahi – Untitled (Shah Raft/The Shah Left)

I’m already imagining slogans in my head … from Bokhara to Badkubeh, and beyond! Anyway … as I’m sure you know, there have been a number of residencies and art foundations sprouting recently in Iran. Why should artists in Iran, for instance, look outside Iran’s borders for support and recognition, especially now that the country is opening up?

Our aim is to bring about cross-cultural communication and create a platform by which Iranian artists can become internationally recognised, and not be pegged solely by their nationality. Of course, artists draw on their heritage, but it is important that they break beyond stereotypes and engage with the world in a meaningful way that is relevant to their practice. We always look for ways to collaborate with similar organisations, both within Iran and outside the country.

Anyone who has come across Persian culture – from its art and literature, to its music, and even its food – will agree that there is no other word that describes it better than ‘magical’

Ladan Broujerdi

Ladan Broujerdi – Talking Tree

Tell me a bit about the Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize (MOP CAP); on what basis are winners chosen and artists shortlisted? 

MOP CAP is a worldwide search for the next generation of promising contemporary Iranian visual artists. MOP CAP has provided these emerging artists with the opportunity to gain international exposure. The prize is conducted through an open call, and all Iranian artists aged 35 years or under, who have not had a major exhibition before, are welcome to apply. The judges are chosen from a ‘who’s who’ list of the international art world, and have included Sheena Wagstaff of the Met, mega-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, the British Museum’s Venetia Porter, and artists Idris Khan and Mat Collishaw, to name a few. However, to get started, it is up to our selection committee to sieve through over 500 applications each time, in order to come up with a 21-name shortlist. The selection committee and judges change with each edition to ensure fair distribution.

What are some of the challenges, in your opinion, facing today’s generation of Iranian artists? And, how do you propose to alleviate them?

One of the areas that desperately need attention is the presentation of their work: the writing and creating of proper biographies and profiles, and a general presentation of themselves so that people can become acquainted with their work. Magic of Persia is always available to provide this assistance to artists, and I’ve been told that some universities have also, in fact, begun teaching courses in just these aspects for young artists.

Mohammad Bozorgi

Mohammad Bozorgi – Sometime, Somewhere, Someone

What else should I be hopping on a plane to check out this year?

This year, we look forward to several panels and talks at the British Museum. In May, we will host a panel on the works of Ardeshir Mohasses. Next up, in July, we will host a book launch for revered artist Parviz Tanavoli, as well as a panel on the life and work of the inspirational and one-of-a-kind Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. And, of course, there will be the biannual open call for the next edition of MOP CAP in July.

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About the Author

Joobin Bekhrad
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An award-winning writer, Joobin Bekhrad (BBA, MSc.) is the founder and Editor of REORIENT. He has contributed to such publications as The Guardian, The Economist, the BBC, Forbes, i-D/Vice, Frieze, The Columbia Journal (whose Guest Editor he served as in 2016), The British Library's Untold Lives, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Aesthetica, Artsy, and Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, been interviewed by news outlets including Newsweek, The Art Newspaper, and the CBC, and seen his writings republished and translated into a variety of languages. He is the author of a translation of Omar Khayyam’s Robaiyat, a novella (Coming Down Again), a collection of stories (With My Head in the Clouds and Stars in My Eyes), and a volume of poetry (Lovers of Light).