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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 00:13 GMT
Reviving Iran's revolutionaries
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran

Iran is marking the 26th anniversary of the 1979 Revolution that toppled the Shah and brought the clerical system of government to power.

A painted mural in an Iranian workshop
Murals depicting the revolutionary martyrs are erected around Tehran
The celebrations culminate with a large rally but preparations include decorating the capital with revolutionary wall paintings and murals.

They are designed to remind the younger generation, born years after the event, what it all meant.

But those who produce the work celebrating the martyrs of the revolution still find it a moving experience.

'Special feeling'

Huge murals show the spirit of the dead warrior ascending to heaven and every year giant canvases depicting portraits of martyrs are erected in the area where they used to live.

Farhad Barz-egar is putting the finishing touches on Ayatollah Khomeini's nose in a giant portrait to be put up on the streets.

He says it can be difficult painting people he cares about so much.

"I cannot explain this feeling in words or writing. But it's a special kind of feeling," he told me.

"For example I was drawing Ayatollah Khomeini's son Ahmad and while I was working on the eye muscles I developed a lump in my throat. If I get too involved emotionally it can distract me from my technique in drawing."

During the war with Iraq, soldiers used to drop off their photographs before going to the front - knowing they might be honoured in a painting.

Khusrow Karimi worked in the army's propaganda unit.


After the war he set up a painting workshop to employ war veterans.

He says he prefers the hand-painted propaganda to the mass-produced cheaper vinyl banners.

Mehdi Najafi
Art works are valuable for the people. Art is not just for gallery owners
Mehdi Najafi, painter
"When you draw by hand your whole spirit is reflected in what you do. With print it's less vibrant," he said.

"I think this traditional way of drawing by hand can never die out but unfortunately after the war they wanted to produce propaganda in mass quantities so printing was more effective.

"There will come a time the market will be full of prints and people will get bored and fed up with all these things being the same. There's more creativity in the old methods."

Public art

But Mr Karimi has had to succumb to modernity - the south Korean machines in his printing house in Tehran have already produced 15,000 sq m of banners to commemorate the revolution and they are just one of many companies working on this theme.

All their work is commissioned by the local municipality.

Every year the sponsors want something new and fresh.

A painted mural
For many of the painters, murals are a labour of love
Mehdi Najafi has been designing posters and wall murals for years in Iran and has won many awards. Much of his work belongs in a museum rather than on the streets.

"Art works are valuable for the people. Art is not just for gallery owners to collect very chic works for an exhibition to be hung in luxurious houses," he told me.

"We want the works which are displayed in public to be accessible to ordinary people out on the streets.

"People have a good understanding of the visual arts and they communicate with the works well."

Democratic designs

Mr Najafi's work ranges from poetic and stylised paintings of religious figures to very bold abstract work in bright colours incorporating designs from traditional tile work or Islamic calligraphy.

Graphic designer Nedar Modir-Khazeni was born after the revolution. She says she enjoys designing film posters most but manages to put some creativity into revolutionary banners by mixing old newspaper photographs with portraits of the leaders.

She says she can introduce the idea that democracy is important in subtle ways - by showing the people as well as their leaders, for example.

It is a sign of how Iran has changed 26 years on and with the art that celebrates the revolution.

For some the business of producing propaganda is just that - a way of making a living.

For others it is still a labour of love even 26 years later.


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