Iran’s Cold War Murals

On 4 November 1979 Iranian students stormed the Embassy of the United States in Tehran, beginning the Iran Hostage Crisis. The event, which was recently dramatised to Oscar-winning effect in Argo, triggered a rupture in Iran-US relations that continues to dominate global politics.

Iran mural

After the end of the crisis on 20 January 1981 the now-abandoned embassy was found to be covered in anti-American murals. In the decades following the Islamic Revolution mural art has been a notable feature of the Iranian urban environment, mirroring the popularity of politicised muralism in post-revolutionary Mexico and Depression-era America. Beginning as a spontaneous expression of revolutionary zeal, the production of murals was increasingly institutionalised in the 1980s, commissioned by the new Iranian government as basic but effective propaganda. Public murals in Iran’s major cities often associated the country’s enemies, in particular the United States, with the iconography of death, while glorifying Iranians who had died fighting for the revolutionary cause.

Iran mural interior

With the rise of television and the internet as more immediate propaganda tools, Iranian state-sponsored murals began to dwindle. But the formation in 2001 of a new governmental department in Tehran specially tasked with managing mural paintings and graphics shows that there is still a place for the mural in Iranian public life.

You can find out more in this fascinating essay by Bahamin Azadi: Painted Politics: The Mural in Modern Iran. And see more examples of Iranian murals in this Huffington Post gallery.

Images: Murals painted on the exterior and interior walls of the former US embassy in Tehran, Iran.

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