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The Inaugural PaykanArtCar

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has systematically oppressed, persecuted, and executed thousands of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  The inaugural PaykanArtCar will highlight the persecution of LGBTQIA+ people in Iran and give voice to those who are silenced by the oppressive Islamic Republic of Iran

We have selected Alireza Shojaian as the artist to transform this iconic Paykan automobile, into a daring multimedia art that uses traditional characters from ancient Persian literature to challenge the contemporary mistreatment of the LGBTQIA+ community in Iran.

Shojaian’s drawing on the inaugural PaykanArtCar is inspired by the Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings, and also its interpretations via the tea-house or “Ghahvehkhaneh” culture of audio-visual story-telling, where Persian folk heroes were depicted through a mixture of religious, traditional and cultural lenses for the Iranian population.

Today, a car once gifted by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran to the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu, will be the canvas for artwork by Iranian artists in exile.

The Artist

Alireza Shojaian is an Iranian painter and visual activist. Shojaian was born in Tehran, Iran in 1988. Shojaian depicts his subjects nude or semi-nude in intimate and vulnerable positions. His work aims to fight societal prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people while making space for non-heteronormative masculine identities. His work reflects on the queer history of West Asia, the present context, and his own experiences. Shojaian’s queerness meant he could not continue his practice in Iran, where carnal depictions are censored and sexual identity is scrutinized and politicized. In 2016 he moved to Beirut where he held two solo exhibitions in 2017and 2018. In 2019 Shojaian was by the French embassy in Lebanon an art residency with the Académie des beaux-arts by the French embassy in Lebanon. He now resides in Paris.



Artist Statement

As a painter, I narrate unwritten histories; as an Iranian, I draw inspiration from stories that have always been central to Iranian culture and identity regardless of time; historical tales that have persevered in the heart of the people particularly through the work of great poets, who further inspired calligraphers and painters throughout history.

The aim of this edition of the PaykanArtCar is to shed light on the deadly abuse of LGBTQIA+ people in Iran, a problem that has been repeatedly denied by the regime and neglected by Iranian society, including in the diaspora.

In my work here I have borrowed images from the paintings of Hossein Qollar-Aghasi (1902 – 1966) titled, “Sohrab and Shaban” which draws inspiration from the Shahnameh, The Persian book of Kings.  I use these images to narrate the contemporary story of Alireza Fazeli’s death and the brutal repression of the LGBTQIA+ community in Iran.  On the front of the car, I have turned the battle between these two national characters, Sohrab and Shaban, into a romantic moment taking place in a garden under the starry night sky of Shiraz On the sides of the car are scenes of their deaths as the result of their forbidden love. On the left, the scene of Sohrab’s death refers to Article 234 of the penal code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which makes sexual relations between men punishable by death. On the right, the scene of Shaban’s death refers to the killing of Alireza Fazeli, and to hundreds of similar murders that no one hears about. Because of the persistent myth in West Asia that homosexuality is a Western import, I did not use the Western symbol of LGBTQIA+ rights, the rainbow, but instead decided to depict an iris, the flower named after the goddess who created the rainbow.

In addition, my canvas, this iconic Paykan car, has its own strong character. For one, the Paykan car is a national icon for many Iranians. It was part of our daily life in Iran for many years. Once the pride of a nation, symbol of modernity and industrial success, the Paykan eventually became an old vehicle used by many as a taxi and is today a subject of nostalgia for two generations of Iranians.

More significantly, this 1974 Paykan, which is the canvas for my work here, has a different story than all the other Paykans. This Paykan Hillman Hunter of 1974 was a gift from Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran to the Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.  A car once owned by a dictator today supports an artwork by an Iranian artist in exile—a project that gives voice to a minority silenced by a totalitarian regime.