Epic Iran: an astounding exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum charts 5,000 years of Iranian art, design and culture. From objects created over 1000 years BC to examples of contemporary art, this is a visual and sensory feast which brings the evolution of Persia and Modern Iran into sharp focus.

It’s very easy to go into an exhibition and think that you know what to expect and that you’ll be greeting a lot of familiar ‘old friends’ we’ve seen behind glass in different areas of the V&A and other museums. Oh, but this is so much more. It’s great that British museums do have great international collections of sculpture, tiles, fabric, rugs, pottery, artwork, books…. goodness, there’s so much to view. But seeing all these pieces from the country we now know of as Iran in one exhibition is truly breathtaking and a fascinating journey through time as we see the evolution of a nation’s cultural history illustrated by some remarkable pieces.

Head of a Persian 515-480 BC from Persepolis, Iran

We start way back in time – 800 – 1000 BC. Things were pretty sophisticated and whizzy on the plateau of Persia and it still seems incredible that these pieces have survived in what looks like perfect working order.

The Sarikhani Collection must be thanked for many of the pieces. This family has made it their life’s work to collect and protect ancient Persian/Iranian treasures which tell the story of the country’s creative journey so fully. Of course I’m impressed by the intricate patterns and the glorious colours but what really fascinated me was the incidence of portraiture and the depiction of people in their everyday activities, or at home or war or, if you’re a king, looking powerful.

Portrait of Fath Ali Shah, about 1815
Ladies around a Samovar, about 1870

You’re also left with a feeling of relief that this region of the world, which has seen atrocious fighting, brutal invasions and huge cultural upheavals, has managed to maintain its cultural identity and keeps on evolving.

The last rooms were filled with contemporary works by current and 20th century artists who reflect the turmoil, changes and challenges of Iranian life. I liked the way a simple medium like oil slick was used on aluminium by Behjat Sadrto create art on canvas, and the wonderful colourful shapes by Ali Banisadr evoking violence and battlefields.

Epic Iran is on show at the V&A until 12th September 2021.

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