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Contemporary or Specific: The Dichotomous Desires in the Art of Early Twenty-First Century Iran

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This article analyzes the dominant dichotomy in cultural and artistic ideas which Iranian artists—like many non-Euro-American artists—have been forced to confront. These include the idea of 'contemporaneity': being imbued with the 'spirit of the time', particularly dominant in the minds of the so-called 'Third Generation'; 1 and 'specificity', an underlying precept of compelling force. The first involves the idea that 'postmodernist' imagery is one of fragmentation and hybridization—the scattering of traditions and the recombination of their diverse elements (see Campbell 1999: 5). The second refers to the ever-present obsession with cultural and frequently social concerns with which Iranian artists are engaged, both within the country and across the diaspora. Contemporary debate on Iranian art reveals deep-rooted anxieties about national and cultural identity. It raises the important question: Is it possible to open up an art practice and discourse that is both contemporary and global, but also indigenous and specific? While this work reflects my own observations, it also relies heavily on the analysis offered in interviews with artists, philosophers, critics, curators and some former administrators in artistic affairs. It finally focuses on four artists through a study of their works and ideas about the aforementioned issues.

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