Parham Ghalamdar Chats Graffiti, Art and Protest

Festival Coordinator Eleanor shares a unique blog post in the lead up to 2020's digital edition of Journeys Festival International with an interview with artist Parham Ghalamdar! Read on to hear from the artist, who has been commissioned by ArtReach as part of our LIBERTY EU partnership.

Parham Ghalamdar grew up in Iran. As a child watching the world around him, he wished that he could add some colour and beauty to the monotony of grey that he passed by every day. Very often buildings would be finished with a painted white façade, but their remaining sides and back walls would be towers of un-rendered grey blocks.

As a young person he was dissatisfied with the acceptable urban aesthetic sanctioned by the Iranian authorities and became increasingly interested in creatively subverting the status quo. He began creating street art in 2006, and was recognised by 2015 as one of the 'four Iranian street artists to know (…) who are making their mark' by Art Radar Journal, and among the '12 artists crucial to the world of Iranian street art' by The Huffington Post.

I have been thrilled to have been working with Parham since April on a significant project, which will be launched for JFI 2020 and will continue to be developed and toured during 2021. I asked him some questions to begin to explore the context behind the story of his work.

EH: Could you set the scene for us? What was it like for you and the crew to be painting in that time and place? How covert did you have to be?

PG: The ELF crew [one of the first graffiti collectives to emerge in the Middle East 15 years ago] was painting in a water channel in the Sa’adat Abad area of Tehran from 2011 to 2013. I joined the crew in 2012. Due to the unique location of the spot, we had the opportunity to paint during the day. The water channel was deep and it was almost camouflaged with the trees. We had the chance to paint in the spot for a long time although we knew there was a great risk to it. We were alerted every time someone was passing by, we felt goosebumps every time we heard the sound of the sirens.

EH: Did people see you painting there? What were their responses?

PG: The responses were highly contrasted which shows there are layers in the Iranian society that are highly modernized and then there are layers that are highly traditionalist. There were people who loved the works and used to compliment us, on the other side there were people who were offended. We really enjoyed both responses since we were a batch of rebellious youngsters.

EH: What inspired you and the crew to keep painting there for so long? Why was it important to be there?

PG: The whole movement was based on an instinctive and impulsive response to the brutal and oppressive environment of Tehran. We were experiencing and mapping the city through graffiti. Therefore our sources of inspiration were variable from day to day ranging from video games, rap and rock music videos, Existentialist/Absurdist literature, cartoons, and our own friendships.

EH: What happened - was it completed? Were you stopped before it was finished?

PG: The water channel was endless, we only finished painting four levels of it which were an estimate of 300 meters. The story ended when the spot was flagged, I was arrested and the walls were painted over in less than a day. Since the Iranian regime is an ideological state, anything that doesn’t fit their ideology or taste will be extremely punished.

Graffiti in Iran is viewed not only as an act of vandalism but as political protest, and as such is much more seriously punishable than in other parts of the world. The water channel that had become an urban canvas in the city for 2 years was instantly wiped back to grey walls, all creative statements covered over overnight.

For Journeys Festival International 2020, you will be able to revisit this forgotten site, hearing about the experience from Parham in his own words as you navigate the channel as it was before it was abruptly erased. Journeys Festival International have teamed up with Parham Ghalamdar, Limina Immersive and Graffwerk to recreate the painted water channel through a compelling new virtual reality experience that transports us back to that time and place, examining a childhood in the Middle East, the impact of art in public spaces, freedom of speech, democracy and cultural aspirations in changing times.

The full programme will be announced in August with even more incredible visual art, performances, exhibitions, artist talks and creative arts workshops to share.

Save the dates now as Journeys Festival International goes digital from 28th September - 18th October.

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