Referring to a contemporary art movement in Iran, the appellation was first used in 1962 by Karim Emami (Emāmi; 1930-2005), the art critic, journalist, and lecturer in English at the Tehran College of Decorative Arts (Honarkada-e honar-hāy-e tazʾini). It was initially applied to the works of artists, both in painting and sculpture, which used already existing elements from votive Shiʿite art in their own modern work. It gradually came to be applied more widely to various forms of modern Persian painting and sculpture that used traditional-decorative elements. The prominent artists and pioneers of the School are Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937), Charles Hossein Zenderoudi (Charles Ḥoseyn Zendarudi; b. 1937), Faramarz Pilaram (Farāmarz Pilārām; 1938–1983), Massoud Arabshahi (Masʿud ʿArabšāhi; b. 1935), Mansur Qandriz (Manṣur Qandriz; 1935–1965), Nasser Oveisi (Nāṣer Oveysi; b. 1934), Sadeq Tabrizi (S˘ādeq Tabrizi; b. 1939), and Zhazeh Tabatabai (Žāzeh Ṭabāṭabāʾi; b. 1928). As Emami himself wrote in the Saqqā-ḵāna exhibition’s catalogue in 1977, and also as attested by statements by such artists as Oveisi and Tabatabai, some of the artists were later unhappy about the inclusion of their names as members of the School. However, they are listed here because of the aesthetic affinities and similarities of their works to the Saqqā-ḵāna style, the presence of their works in the formal exhibitions of the group, and above all, because they appear to share the same artistic program as those of the Saqqā-ḵāna School. The School became gradually more and more popular and was joined by several other artists. In particular, artists such as Siah Armajani (Siyāmak Armajāni; b. 1939) in the 1960s and in the 1990s Jafar Rouhbakhsh (Jaʿfar Ruḥbaḵš; 1941-1996) demonstrated close affinity with the School’s aesthetics.

According to Emami, the display of Zenderoudi’s canvases at the Third Tehran Biennial in 1962 marks the official birth of the Saqqā-ḵāna School (Emami, 1987, p. 642). In these paintings, external lines of forms were shaped in a geometric pattern with the alphabetical characters in the background written carefully and the squares, triangles, rectangles, and circles colored in hues of red, green, yellow ochre, and sometimes mild blue (FIGURE 1). These colors, accompanied by black, had made up the collection of Shiʿite mourning colors. As for the choice of the term ‘Saqqā-ḵāna,’ Emami suggested that a viewer of Zenderoudi’s canvases would be reminded of Shiʿite shrines and religious gatherings. Although the spiritual atmosphere conveyed by the paintings was not as religiously sublime, or on such a grand scale as that of some of the finest decorations in Persian mosques, it did convey the air of familiarity and intimacy associated with traditional Saqqā-ḵānas (Emami, 1977).

One of the main founders of the School, the sculptor Tanavoli, describes how he and Zenderoudi became fascinated in the late 1950s by printed posters depicting religious scenes, talismanic seals, and pictorial forms in the south of Tehran, while they searched for local Iranian raw material to be used and developed in their works. The simplicity of forms, repeated motifs, and bright colors attracted them. Tanavoli believes that the first sketches Zenderoudi created on the basis of those materials could be deemed as the first examples of Saqqā-ḵāna works (Tanavoli, 2000, p. 69). Although some artists of the School have challenged this account (Tabrizi, 1998, p. 93), undoubtedly a main branch of the School owes its formation to the outcome of the friendship between these two artists and their joint research into Iranian folk culture.

Tabrizi, another member of the School, believes that the Saqqā-ḵāna artists, himself included, started their artistic careers independently. Each of the School’s members was fascinated by different traditional sources in various ways (Tabrizi, 1998, p. 93). Oveissi, for example, became involved earlier than the others in conservation work of Qajar paintings in the Department of Fine Arts (Edāra-e honarhā-ye zibā-ye kešvar) and was thus influenced by their style from an earlier date. Zenderoudi had already shown his interest in religious images and rituals in his prints on the subject of Shiʿite rituals, in particular in his 1960 work entitled “In Ḥoseyn kist ke delhā hama divāna-ye ust?” (Who is this Ḥoseyn with whom everyone is madly in love?) (Tabrizi, 2005, p. 27). They were, however, probably aware of each other’s activities through encounters at the College of Decorative Arts and also in artistic clubs, particularly the Kaboud (Kabud) Atelier, founded by Tanavoli with some financial support from the Department of Fine Arts in 1960. Gradually, this atelier became an artistic center for modernist artists such as Zenderoudi, Grigorian, Melkonian, Sheybani (Šaybāni), Saffari (S˘affāri), and Sepehri. Zenderoudi, held three exhibitions there (Tanavoli, 2000, p. 93). Tabrizi adds that when the group assembled and their works were exhibited together, a relationship between their works emerged, although the works had been created separately and none of them could be considered as following in the steps of the others (Tabrizi, 1998, p. 93). It could be said that while Tabatabai and Oveisi were pooling together their experiences, and the same was true of Zenderoudi and Pilaram, the artists Qandriz, Tanavoli, and Arabshahi were more independent in their approach.

One of the shared traits of most members of the group was that they had some affiliation with the Tehran College of Decorative Arts, either as students or teachers. The institution was established in Tehran in 1961 with the aim of training experts in the applied arts. The College (Honarkada), whose name was changed to the Faculty of Decorative Arts (Dāneškada-e honarhā-ye tazʾini) a few years later, responded to the needs of the new generation by establishing some alternative fields of study under the direction of foreign and Iranian instructors (Emami, 1987, p. 642). Various fields of study such as decorative painting, graphic design, sculpture, and interior architecture with a major emphasis on applied arts were taught in this College. Students were encouraged to seek local sources of inspiration, symbols and idioms, and to familiarize themselves with Iran’s decorative heritage through various courses. The Dean of the College, Houshang Kazemi (Hušang Kāẓemi), himself lectured on “decoration” and familiarized the students with the treasure house of Persian ornamental ware.

Saqqā-ḵāna artists looked to cults, rituals, and visual elements of folk and local vernacular culture for inspiration. Although many of these items appeared crude in their execution and lacked the artistic polish of artifacts made by professional calligraphers and painters, and were often created collaboratively as a kind of street art, their true significance was not lost to these artists. Viewed from this perspective, Saqqā-ḵāna artists could be in fact considered successors to Iranian craftsmen of earlier centuries—miniaturist, illuminators, calligraphers, and goldsmiths. In the view of the above-mentioned modern artists however, these roots had to be linked to modern styles and fused to create a distinctly national artistic expression.

The history of the movement can be classified into two periods: early (from 1962 to around 1964) and late (from 1964 onward). The first period was devoted mainly to the employment of votive Shiʿite folk elements in the works of artists such as Zenderoudi and Pilaram. The later was extended to all the artists, both painters and sculptors, who drew directly on the traditional art forms of Iran as raw material for their work. They were all adapting forms and themes gleaned from the past—even when unrelated to Shiʿite iconography, from the Achamenids to the Qajar. This was, however, not an official association, with stated goals or a shared manifesto, and the imagery and vocabulary used by artists varied.

The Saqqā-ḵāna movement in the sixties tried to find and establish a “national” or “Iranian” school of art. The general perception was based on the belief that the artists could achieve a “modern-traditional” synthesis that included an Iranian identity and character. “What made this movement revolutionary was the modernistic [approach to] tradition and sense of freedom from the bonds of past cultural clichés” (Diba, 1989, p. 152). As John Clark maintains, “[an] important feature of avant-garde practice found elsewhere in Asia is that artists who adopt avant-garde positions feel free to explore indigenous art forms alongside—rather than in opposition to—the discourse they operate on” (Clark, 1998, p. 219). In this, the School was undoubtedly the most influential avant-garde movement in the formation of the neo-traditionalist art in Iran at the time (Keshmirshekan, 2005, p. 613).

Exploring the various resources of folk decorative arts and designs, and reinterpreting of the traditional art forms, inspired and stimulated the artists to create innovatory works. Saqqā-ḵāna artists used these elements in a variety of forms and numerous structural compositions. Many forms of traditional Persian arts and crafts were explored, including popular printed prayers; talismanic and magical seals, amulets, and shirts; astrolabes, props used in mourning processions; motifs from local handicraft (rugs, carpets); ancient pottery motifs; such popular religious artifacts as the Jām-e ⋲ehel kelid (the forty keys vessel) and the panja-e panj tan (the Five Holy Ones’ palm of the hand); elements of Qajar art; enameled bowls from Rey adorned with horse-riders; and Persian calligraphy and painting; Achaemenid and Sasanian inscription or epigraphy, and Assyrian bas-reliefs. Persian poetry and eastern gnostic and mystical symbols also featured in the works of these artists.

The other face of the Saqqā-ḵāna School was the attention paid to modernism. The artist’s works, however, “suggests that modernity in the Iranian context was a complex field of negotiation and accommodation—and not a simple act of imitation and mimicry” (Balaghi, 2002, p. 25). Whereas all the Saqqā-ḵāna artists had created a modern idiom by adapting various traditional forms to their purposes, the pioneers attempted to find some harmonic familiarity with modern Western art (especially Abstract art), and to make a connection between the modern and the traditional. “This occurred as a restatement of those sources or a re-working of them into new visual statements, or the conjuring-up of a vision of the past lost to modernized Persian life such as a Qajar dancer, a woman in veil, an old-time musician, or an arrangement of votive objective and religious symbols in a non-religious context” (Yarshater, 1979, p. 356).

The neo-traditionalist Saqqā-ḵāna eventually seems to have been established later by two main tendencies. Such artists as Tanavoli, Zenderoudi, Pilaram, Qandriz (although Qandriz is usually categorized as an abstract artist in his Saqqā-ḵāna period, he himself and some critics consider him a figurative artist who looked at subjects in an abstract way [Qandriz, 1965, p. 16]) and Arabshahi were fascinated by the apparent affinity between the stylized aspect of Iranian traditional decorative arts and Abstract Art. Various abstract forms were created in which the ornamental elements and geometrical shapes of Irano-Islamic art and Persian calligraphy were selected and then spread throughout the whole space of the canvases mostly in symmetrical constructions (FIGURE 1, FIGURE 2, FIGURE 3, FIGURE 4, and FIGURE 5). On the other hand, artists including Oveisi, Tabrizi, and Tabatabai found their inspiration in the existence of figurative forms such as human bodies and animals of different types in traditional Persian painting from ancient manuscripts to the painting of the Qajar period. They attempted to use these to present the modern and transformed types through a multiplicity of elements in a decorative mode with a generous use of calligraphic motifs in their canvases (FIGURE 6, FIGURE 7, and FIGURE 8).

On the whole, the use of tradition by these artists was mainly a reference to the “pictorial” tradition rather than to subject matter and content. This quality is particularly apparent in the abstract branch of the School. In other words, they concentrated on the “formal” traditions, including forms, motifs, colors, etc. that could altogether create an identifiable traditional and sometimes religious atmosphere. Apart from this interest in the formal aspect of traditional images, however, the presence of the artist’s attention to the traditional subject matter can be found very occasionally in the works of some artists. One could mention the mythical, traditional, and literary subject matter exhibited in the Robāʿiyyāt of ʿOmar Ḵayyām, the work of the legendary sculptor Farhād, and in the folk proverbs with modern outlooks found in Oveisi, Tanavoli, and Tabatabai’s works respectively. Religious content of the initial works of Zenderoudi, before the establishment of the School and during early Saqqā-ḵāna period, and also some of Pilaram’s later works (in the late 1970s when he illustrated some Qurʾanic subject-matters) were other examples.

Parviz Tanavoli (b.1937), a sculptor, painter, lithographer, collector, and scholar of Persian art, has been a central figure of the School. He emerged as a fervent believer in a modernism attained through forms of popular visual culture and used folkloric expressions as his inspiration. Tanavoli has chosen a successful path to evoke the multiple allusions and imagery of Persian language and literature. Such literary references appear for example in the hands of “Farhad the Mountain Carver,” Tanavoli’s tribute to the legendary Iranian artist who, for love, accepted the impossible challenge of carving a channel through a rocky mountain, materialized in a series of sculptures in the early 1960s. A graduate of the Barrera Academy of Milan, where he studied with Mario Marini, he was in 1960 active in the establishment of the College of Decorative Arts as sculpture tutor. Reworking tropes from classical Persian literature, Islamic folk-art, and calligraphy, he produced works that provocatively unite style and meaning. His sculptures “Hič” (the Persian word for nothing)—mainly created in the 1970s—in fact transformed a nihilistic existentialist cry into a Persian allegory (FIGURE 2). The word had a spiritual dimension here, alluding to the theme of annihilation (fanā), an important concept in Persian Sufi poetry. The Hič suggests a mystical condition beyond nothingness.

The influential artist and leading member of the group, Zenderoudi (b. 1937), studied briefly at the Tehran Faculty of Decorative Arts, but left Iran in 1961 for France where he has continued his artistic career, mainly in Paris. Though he had started with some votive Shiʿite iconography, geometrical patterns, talismanic shapes, numbers, colors of religious folk-art and calligraphic ornaments, he shifted to using calligraphy as a major element of his canvases in various ways and stages (FIGURE 1). The freshness, intuitiveness, and originality found in his early works—inspired by these talismanic forms—were breathtaking and unique. Later, in Zenderoudi’s calligraphic paintings, with his pseudo-scripts, the characters in and of themselves carried no meaning but were meaningful as organic elements of visual art and alive with cultural connotations. At the juncture of calligraphy and geometry, we find the optic art-like compositions of letters and the purity of calligraphic elements in which Zenderoudi intellectually refines the graphic geometry of the script. It is, however, worth noting that the artist’s presence in Paris and the influences of such contemporary movements as lettrism—the Paris based avant-garde movement which was still at its apex when Zenderoudi moved there—could have had a definite impact on him. He seems to have developed the talismanic and calligraphic trends into a personalized pseudo-script of signs.

The artistic development of Pilaram (1938–1983), a graduate of the Tehran Faculty of Decorative Arts, at one stage ran parallel to Zenderoudi’s, encompassing words, letters, and geometrical forms inspired by Shiʿite iconography (FIGURE 3). Pilaram, whose use of old seals was a feature of the first part of his artistic career, used these in his works as a connective texture in geometrical compositions. An accomplished calligrapher, he later experimented with various styles in which calligraphy, especially the nastaʿliq script, played the main role. During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, he created several expressionist calligraphic paintings and colorful free-hand šekasta-like canvases, which can be associated with some traditional inscriptions. In the subsequent stage of his painting, calligraphic elements played a role as the connective textures in geometrical compositions, as if they had been slid onto the transparent surfaces in the background. In this way, the geometrical background combined with the reflexes of the calligraphic elements causes his art to appear as if it were three-dimensional. In some paintings, which are part of the collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, rhythmical words play visual movements in a symphonic space. In fact, the homogeneous quality of indigenous arts, music, poetry, and decorative painting consciously emerge with harmonic symmetries in his canvases.

While the two artists mentioned above concentrated exclusively on exploring calligraphy, some other artists used mystical symbols to combine traditional and modern elements into abstract designs. Another student of the Tehran Faculty of Decorative Arts, Qandriz (1935–1965), was a semi-abstract painter who used stylized Persian motifs, emphasizing tribal forms, Iranian textiles, and ancient metalwork by the employment of limited colors. He was a painter, who “had struggled in the various stages of his artistic development, with obsessive care and hesitancy, to elaborate and define a truly Iranian style” (Pakbaz, 1974, p. 33). His early figurative images—before he joined the Saqqā-ḵāna School—reveal the influence of Matisse, Picasso, and Persian miniatures. Later in his Saqqā-ḵāna period, using traditional textile and designs, he developed an individual semi-abstract style characterized by geometric patterns and stylized images such as humans, birds, fish, the sun, swords, etc. (FIGURE 4).

Arabshahi (b. 1935), who also graduated from the Faculty, delved back further into history for his inspiration and was inspired by the art of pre-Islamic Persia, as depicted in Achaemenid motifs, as well as by Assyrian and Babylonian rock carving and script. His drawings, inspired by Zoroastrian texts, resemble archaeological maps of ancient cities. Unlike other artists in the Saqqā-ḵāna group he did not employ religious-folk-art, and his different outlook and spirit set him apart in Saqqā-ḵāna gatherings and exhibitions. However, his early works, and even the later ones, conform to some major Saqqā-ḵāna aesthetic characteristics. In particular, one can cite the permanent presence of various motifs and ornaments and the multiplicity of elements in most parts of the canvas. Also to be noted is the use of the color schemes of Iranian folk-art consisting of gold, green, red, black, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and vermilion. A close relationship with Islamic architectural forms and crafts can be found in the forms and sometimes the colors that he employed in these works (FIGURE 5). During 1970s he decorated walls and facades of public and private buildings with bas-reliefs of his own design.

At the same time that the above-mentioned artists were dealing with abstraction, others like Oveisi chose figurative art. Motifs inspired chiefly by Persian paintings, ceramics, qalamkārs, and calligraphy are featured in the canvases of Oveisi (b. 1934). While he creates complex designs, the themes of his paintings are few and simple. They include human figures, horses, and painted pottery, inspired by ancient Persian pottery. His women—single or in groups of two or three—with large oblong eyes and joined eyebrows are reminiscent of the portraits of the Qajar large-scale paintings (FIGURE 6). His male figures, whether polo players, lovers, or riders with falcons perched on their arms, bring to mind some standard types of Iranian pictorial tradition and forms of Persian painting (Yarshater, 1979, p. 370). In all cases, however, different sections of the figures are mostly adorned and illuminated by calligraphic or decorative patterns.

The horseback riders and lyrical couples populating Persian miniatures and ceramics are the themes of Tabrizi’s painting too (FIGURE 7). The works of Tabrizi (b. 1939), which were first inspired by traditional symbolic articles found in such folk-art as “blue beads, old keys and locks, loose pages from manuscripts, penmanship practice sheets, old-fashioned signature seals, metal bowls with engraved rims, qalyān or nargila tops, colored glass or bits of semiprecious stone,” (Yarshater, 1979, p. 370) also draw upon Persian painting, Qajar portraits, and forms of religious and folk paintings of coffee-house (Qahva-ḵāna). In his works, one can see the rhythmical repetition of motifs and calligraphic forms. From his exhibitions in 1970–71, Tabrizi too started to utilize calligraphy as the sole element in his paintings.

Tabatabai (b. 1928), who was one of the pioneers of modern art in Iran, also started with Qajar patterns in the late 1950s, earlier than most others, but “he hovered halfway between the caricature and the more serious exponents” (Emami, 1971, p. 357). A serious sculptor and a prolific painter, Tabatabai has a wide scope and has tried different styles; however, he is recognized best for his bold re-statements of Persian patterns such as Qajar females, decorative forms, calligraphic shapes, and imaginative scenes. “He attempts to capture and perpetuate the types and shapes which are bound up with a vision of the last phases of traditional Persia” (Yarshater, 1979, p. 370). He drew upon forms from Iranian folk culture and art a few years earlier than the School was named. His sculptures are also combinations of various elements found in the scrap heap but imaginatively and humorously put together (Emami, 1987, p. 645; FIGURE 8).

Through a survey of the cultural atmosphere of Iranian artistic gatherings and also some written pieces in art publications and exhibitions during the fifties and, especially, the sixties, such as the introductions to the Tehran Biennials and Tālār-e Irān’s magazines, it can generally be found that they focused on two main topics: the importance of success in the international art scene on the one hand, and the formation of national and Iranian art, on the other. This coincided with the cultural policies of the state during Mohammad-Reza Shah’s reign (1941–1979). Through the five Tehran Biennials (Emami, 1987, pp. 641-42), supported by the Department of Fine Arts, the aim was to foster the development of contemporary arts while at the same time presenting the ancient heritage and civilization of the country. The Tehran Biennials attempted to emulate famous European Biennials such as the Venice Biennale, and the organizers aimed at the introduction and propagation of a kind of modern art that included the state’s cultural agenda. The issue of “national” and “Iranian” identity was highlighted, promoted both by officials concerned with cultural matters and by individual artists who were also themselves interested in past traditions. The Saqqā-ḵāna movement was therefore attractive to all sides.

As the major sponsors of artistic activities at that time, the governmental cultural departments tried to establish, through patronage of individual artists and movements, a “formal art” that would form the basis of a sort of national school of art. Gradually, during the 1960s, this type of art was extensively propagated and supported by governmental patronage. These external agents are therefore of significance in the formation of the Saqqā-ḵāna movement, which was regarded as a possible prototype for such a formal art. These implications can be discerned in the introduction to the Third Tehran Biennial and its declaration that “a vein of independent art with local coloring is giving birth.” The introduction to the Fourth Tehran Biennial also contains similar sentiments.

The state’s sponsorship, support from other institutions such as the Iran-America and the Iran-Italy Cultural Association, the Goethe Institute, and the Sirus (Cyrus) Gallery in Paris where modern Iranian painting, sculpture, and design were exhibited, and private galleries in Tehran, including Saba, Mes, Litu, Borghese, Zarvan, Zand, Saman, Honar-e Jadid, and Tālār-e Qandriz, and the creation of several museums and artistic clubs in Tehran and other cities, including Isfahan and Kerman, the establishment of the Faculty of Decorative Arts, making links with international associations, employing some foreign instructors, and transformation of the old educational curriculum to a modern one, all had combined to help modern Iranian visual arts to become, like modern Persian poetry, a significant entity in the cultural life of the country. Like modern poetry, it was basically an urban art and limited to the middle classes. But in contrast to modern poetry, visual arts benefited from extensive state support. Gradually, many government institutions and private companies became patrons of modern art; in particular one can name the Farah Pahlavi Foundation. Others, including Ministries, National Iranian Radio Television, banks, corporations led by the Behshahr Industrial group, the Lajevardi Foundation, and the Prime Minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda, were all effectively patronizing visual arts.

The issue of identity in art (as in other fields of intellectual and social activities) was discussed in some artistic and intellectual gatherings before the onset of the state-assisted propagation of art in the 1960s. During the 1940s and 1950s, the term “national art” or “school of national art” was repeatedly mentioned by both modernist artists and cultural administrators and some attempts had even been made by artists to produce this kind of art. In other words, since the 1940s when modernism began to be adapted by Iranian artists, many of those pioneers had tried to look at modern western art from an Iranian point of view (The approach to local material as a reference to the self and cultural specificity dated back to the pioneers of modern Iranian art such as Jalil Ziyapour (Żiāpur, 1920-1999) and Houshang Pezeshknia (Hušang Pezeškniā, 1915-1972). Faced with the complexities of their artistic identity, the young artists of the 1960s generation were engaged in intensive experimentation, both intellectually and artistically. They began to draw on Shiʿite pictorial folk culture, still a living tradition and highly popular, especially among the middle and lower classes. These artists believed that these sources had a connection with their artistic roots. At this juncture, criticism of the West through anti-western movements was growing among some Iranian intellectuals. It can be said that this kind of perception with regard to art was paralleled with the nativist and nationalist debates that were prevalent in both intellectual and political arenas of Iran at that time. The major impetus of these movements was to encourage Iranians to attempt to discover their own identity, tradition, and national roots. This belief was also growing among Iranian elites and the effect of this milieu on this group of artists should not be underestimated. These tendencies among the intelligentsia, which had originated in the 1940s and 1950s, manifested themselves in criticism of the insatiable desire among the majority to imitate and emulate the West and its products. This was known as Ḡarb-zadegi (Westoxication) in various walks of life, literature, and art. One of the direct reactions to this thought was the return to traditions, local, folk and national cultures, and national-traditional identity. However, it has to be said that although the great presence of nativist beliefs can be recognized in the Saqqā-ḵāna movement, none of these artists and their followers were anti-western in outlook or artistic stance. Rather, it was the issue of cultural identity that motivated them to refer to their own roots without turning away from the West (Keshmirshekan, 2005, p. 628).

Due to the modernistic nature of their art, the question can be posed whether—as Kamran Diba believes—the Saqqā-ḵāna movement can be compared to the Pop Art movement in the West. He claims, “if we simplify Pop Art as an art movement which looks at the symbols and tools of a mass consumer society as a relevant and influencing cultural force, Saqqā-ḵāna artists looked at the inner beliefs and popular symbols that were part of the religion and culture of Iran, and perhaps, consumed in the same way as industrial products in the West (but for different reasons and under dissimilar circumstances)” (Diba, 1989, p. 153). He names the Saqqā-ḵāna movement “in reference to Western art, ‘Spiritual Pop Art’” (Diba, 1989, p. 153). Although his assumption cannot be rejected outright, it cannot be fully justified either, considering the artistic circumstances of that period (the 1960s) in Iran and individual statements of the artists exploring their individual motivations as well as the socio-political context, which was quite different from the West.

Although no one has claimed any exact date for the demise of the Saqqā-ḵāna School yet, it has been stated that the main School did not survive because of the lack of concord between the members of the group (Jowdat, 1965, p. 10; Aghdashloo, 1993, p. 44). At present, the School’s main doctrine (there was no actual doctrine written by the Saqqā-ḵāna School. Rather, here, the word “doctrine” is used to express the main principles of the School’s aim, including its attention to the issue of cultural and artistic identity by reference to pictorial heritage with consideration of complex realities of modern life with a neo-traditional approach) is continued through the individual artists of the School and other artists who were influenced by it in different ways. If we consider Emami’s explanatory statement in the introduction to the Saqqā-ḵāna exhibition’s catalogue in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in August 1977, it can be adduced that the School had existed in a different manner, at least until that time. The exhibition consisted of works of the major Saqqā-ḵāna members, including Zenderoudi, Tanavoli, Pilaram, Qandriz, Arabshahi, Tabrizi, Tabatabai, and Oveisi. Yet, it can be said that although the group’s concrete activity together (we know that there were no special organization for the group to share their ideas together) did not last until the mid-1960s, the Saqqā-ḵāna main founders have continued their radical aim, even now, through their individual and diverse styles. In other words, even if each of the artists of Saqqā-ḵāna chose a different manner and proceeded on their way beyond the movement’s initial boundaries, their subsequent stages cannot be considered distinct from the original School’s main destination. Furthermore, one could see that from the mid-1960s onwards, the Saqqā-ḵāna movement witnessed increasing numbers of artists joining it. In particular, many used calligraphic forms as the basis of their work. Distinguished figures such as Mohammad Ehsai (Eḥsāʾi, b. 1939) and Reza Mafi (Māfi, 1943-1982) belong to the genre which was then named “Naqqāši-ḵatt.” Hence the Saqqā-ḵāna School resulted in the emergence of other homogeneous tendencies in contemporary Iranian art in which these tendencies all dealt with the issue of identity. Such movements as “Easternism,” and “Gnosticism,” emerged, with each one playing a part in the history of contemporary Iranian art.

Since the advent of the Saqqā-ḵāna School, there has not been any similar movement in Iran on a national basis. In particular, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and following political, cultural, and social transformations in Iran, art was also radically affected. The Revolution brought to an abrupt end the previous regime’s official policies on art. One of the important impacts of the Revolution on such movements as Saqqā-ḵāna, (whose lack of commitment to the Islamic Revolution and its aspirations and whose works with their modernist aspects had been strongly supported by the pre-revolutionary state as a formal art) was that the School’s artists mostly migrated abroad and those who stayed behind had no opportunity to present their works. However, after about a decade in the post-revolutionary period, modern Iranian art was regenerated in the beginning of the 1990s. It coincided with the re-introduction and analysis of the Saqqā-ḵāna artists and their works in the artistic centers. Some eminent Saqqā-ḵāna artists, such as Zenderoudi, Tanavoli and Arabshahi who had cut their ties with the Iranian art scene after the Revolution, were now invited to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art to exhibit their works in solo or group exhibitions. Here again, one can witness that the dominant preoccupation of the post-revolutionary modernist artists is to identify what constitutes the specific characteristics of Iranian art, and it is in this continued quest that the essence of the Saqqā-ḵāna movement still lives on.


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Catalogue of the Fourth Tehran Biennial, Tehran, 1964.

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M. R. Jowdat, “Nemāyešgāh-e dasta jamʿi-e naqqāši,” Tālār-e Irān (Qandriz) 198, 1965.

H. Keshmirshekan, “Contemporary Iranian Art: Neo Traditionalism from the 1960s to 1990s,” Ph.D. diss., School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 2004.

Idem, “Neo-Traditionalism and Modern Iranian Painting: The Saqqa-khaneh School in the 1960s,” Iranian Studies 38/4, 2005, pp. 607-30.

R. Pakbaz, Contemporary Iranian Painting and Sculpture, Tehran, 1974.

Idem, Dāʾerat al-maʿāref-e honar (Encyclopedia of Art), Tehran, 1999.

M. Qandriz, “Man be sohulat-e bayān va āzādi-e erāda imān dāram,” Ferdowsi 716, pp. 12, 16.

P. Tanavoli, “Atelier Kaboud,” in D. Galloway, ed., Parviz Tanavoli, Sculptor, Writer & Collector, Tehran, 2000, pp. 68-98.

Idem, Āteliya-e kabud (the Kaboud atelier), Tehran, 2005.

S. Tabrizi, “ Saqqā-ḵāna az ānjā pā gereft,” Honar-hāy-e tajassomi 6, 1998, pp. 88-99.

Idem, “Peydāyeš-e ṭālār-e Irān, tavallod-e maktab-e Saqqā-ḵāna,” Ḵolāṣa maqālāt-e

hamāyeš-e honar-e modern-e Irān (Proceedings abstract of the conference on Modern Iranian Art), 2005, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, pp. 26- 27.

E. Yarshater, “Contemporary Persian Painting,” in R. Ettinghausen and E. Yarshater, eds., Highlights of Persian Art, New York, 1979, pp. 363-77.

See also the website of Charles Hossein Zenderoudi (accessed 15 August 2009).

August 15, 2009

(Hamid Keshmirshekan)

Originally Published: August 15, 2009

Last Updated: August 15, 2009

Cite this entry:

Hamid Keshmirshekan, "SAQQĀ-ḴĀNA SCHOOL OF ART," Encyclopædia Iranicaonline edition, 2009, available at (accessed on 15 August 2009).