Now in its Second Year, the Khor Art Initiative Is Aiming to Revitalize Iran’s Beleaguered Arts Community

Saradipour Art Gallery, which founded the prize, is currently hosting an exhibition of 30 artist finalists.

Mahdieh Abolhasan, the winner of the inaugural Khor Art Initiative Prize, is now represented by SARADIPOUR Art Gallery.
Mahdieh Abolhasan, the winner of the inaugural Khor Art Initiative Prize, is now represented by SARADIPOUR Art Gallery.

Last year, Iran was among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, and the nation’s isolated political status only served to exacerbate an already tragic situation. For artists, revenue sources dried up as exhibitions were abruptly canceled.

Amid the tumult, Saradipour Art Gallery (SARAI), a gallery that focuses on Middle Eastern artists, decided to launch the Khor Art Initiative, an independent art prize defined to discover and support emerging, and mainly Iranian, talents and introduce them to a wider audience. Gallery founder Hassan Saradipour spearheaded the idea, seeing it as a revitalizing event that would bolster optimism and energy in the Iranian visual arts community. 

Shiva Noroozi, Friendship (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

Shiva Noroozi, Friendship (2021). Courtesy of the artist.

The word Khor is a regional word for Middle Eastern estuaries, and holds special significance. “Khor is a sensitive tidal area, you know. It has its own particular ecosystem,” explained Saradipour, “From this perspective, I think of khor as a sort of metaphor for Middle Eastern, particularly Iranian, art in the sense that it represents a unique and vital creative identity in the world while also always exchanging values and qualities with other cultures and heritages around the world.” 

Selected from a nationwide open call for paintings and drawings, submissions were reviewed by an international jury of established experts in Middle Eastern and contemporary art. There was no application fee, a decision the gallery felt was important for encouraging participation from Iranian artists, who are struggling to show their works internationally. Additionally, the gallery decided to waive all commissions on sales from the exhibition to fully benefit the selected artists.

Last year’s winner was Iranian painter and sculptor Mahdieh Abolhasan, who is now represented by the gallery. Abolhasan will be showing with the gallery at Volta Basel 2021 in a dual presentation with Abbas Nasle Shamloo, another artist represented by the gallery. 

Work by the 30 short-listed artists can be explored on SARADIPOUR's website; five finalists will be announced September 15.

Work by the 30 short-listed artists can be explored on SARADIPOUR’s website; five finalists will be announced on September 15.

Now in its second year, the Khor Art Initiative has returned with the same goals and even more momentum. The open call saw a 40 percent increase in submissions. What’s more, nearly two-thirds of the applicants are women, primarily in their 20s and 30s.

Given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, the juried selection and exhibition are happening via an online viewing room. This year’s jurors are an esteemed mix of voices in the field of Middle Eastern art, including Roxane Zand, Max Presneill, Murtaza Vali, Lila Nazemian, and Lee Ann Biddle. 

Ali Saeedi, Untitled. Courtesy of the artist.

Ali Saeedi, Untitled. Courtesy of the artist.

Currently, the Khor Art Initiative is hosting an online exhibition of 30 shortlisted artists. Next week jurors will announce five finalists. Four finalists will have at least one work purchased by the gallery, while the grand prize winner will receive a cash prize.  Among the five finalists, one artist will also be given representation by the gallery. The Khor Art Initiative Exhibition is on view through September 30. 


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