Caught between the desire to maintain time-honoured local traditions and the increasing need to engage with ever more pervasive outside influences and currents of innovation, Transforming Traditions: The Arts of 19th-Century Iran tells powerful stories through artworks created under the Qajar dynasty.
IRAN’S CENTURY OF CHANGE
The 19th century was a time of significant upheaval and change in Iran. Engagement with the West brought military, economic, technological, and cultural innovations to the country. The Qajars, who ruled Iran from 1785 to 1925, were of Turkmen origin and unified the country after decades of internal turmoil. As well as adopting many of the innovations that came from the West, they consciously revived local religious and artistic traditions, and their active patronage of Iranian religious customs, poetry, and the arts – initiatives aimed at legitimizing their rule – fostered a new national identity and laid the foundation for a modern nation state.
THE POWER OF ART IN TIMES OF CHANGE
The artifacts in Transforming Traditions: The Arts of 19th-Century Iran speak of a dynamic, creative, and sophisticated country challenged to navigate competing cultural dynamics. Some objects reflect the conscious revival of local traditions and convictions, while others tell of an enthusiastic adaptation of state-of-the-art ideas and technologies. Many of the objects represent a successful fusion of tradition and the latest trends of the time. The exhibition invites us to contemplate how art transforms and is transformed in any society faced with major change. It reminds us that to this day, around the world and here in Canada, artists and craftspeople respond to change in complex ways.
A MAJOR LOAN FROM THE LOUVRE
The exhibition brings together rare portraits, paintings, lacquerware, lithographed manuscripts, photographs, musical instruments, and textiles from a host of prominent international and national collections. Masterpieces from the Aga Khan Museum are featured alongside a major loan from the Louvre Museum and select items from other institutions, including the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Textile Museum of Canada, McGill University Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections, and private collections, among others.
Dr. Ulrike Al-Khamis, Director of Collections and Public Programs, Aga Khan Museum
Bita Pourvash, Assistant Curator, Aga Khan Museum
Photo credit: Jay Bisno Collection of Sevruguin Photographs. Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Gift of Jay Bisno, 1985, FSA_A.15_01