Iranian artists catch foreign galleries’ attention with nudity, sexuality

“Artists know that a certain type of work sells very well in some Arab countries”

Camelia Haj Ghasem is an Iranian painter who worked for years in Parisian art galleries. She recently moved to Prague to pursue her work. 

In the past few years, I’ve seen a formula emerge among young, unknown artists who want to make it big. They know that a certain type of work sells very well in Arab countries, in particular the United Arab Emirates.

Customers there are fond of nudes, portraits of naked women wearing chadors, or even just photographs of Iranian women in intimate settings.

I do think that artists starting working on these themes because they were sincerely interested in them, but I’ve seen so many of them create such similar works that at this point, some of their work now looks more like copy-and-paste for commercial purposes.

Good sales in Arab countries have helped some artists gain enough notoriety to catch the eye of European galleries. A few Iranian artists like Afshin Pirhashemi broke into the European market this way; he first became famous in Dubai.

But there are still very few of them. Though I tried to show lesser-known artists in Paris, it never worked. European galleries put a big premium on an artist’s work history: which galleries they’ve shown at, what festivals they’ve been part of, how much their past work has sold for…

To me, many galleries have turned into a sort of mafia – they no longer see the art, just the market.

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