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A Review of Mehdi Sahabi's Show at TMoCA

Author : Sale Sharifi

Reading Time : 4 Minutes

Original text in Farsi by Sale Sharifi 

Translated to English by Soheila Habibi

In collaboration with Mojdeh Gallery, TMoCA held a retrospective show of Mehdi Sahabi's works to explore his cultural life. "Mehdi Sahabi; A Retrospective" started on November 3 and will continue until December 19, 2021. The opening of the show took place simultaneously with the debut of Mehdi Sahabi's exquisite book and the official opening of "Mehdi Sahabi Foundation". Except being a painter, sculptor, writer, translator, photographer, and journalist, Mehdi Sahabi was a charismatic figure; a polymath character, and a restless artist who is impossible to be observed superficially.

Sahabi kept experiencing during his 65-year precious life and this characteristic didn't allow him to finish his education! He studied painting at the Faculty of Decorative Arts but quit it after a short while. Then he went to Rome to study Cinema but once again he didn't continue to graduate! Started painting in Rome but left the city for France, before finishing the academic courses. After coming back to Iran, he wanted to work in cinema but started his career in journalism and photography. During the vicissitudes of the Islamic Revolution, Sahabi distanced slowly from journalism and kept himself busy painting, translation, writing, and sculpture.


With his faultless skill in Farsi, French, English, and Italian, Sahabi translated lots of oeuvres to Farsi and also from Farsi to the other three languages. He started translating in 1973; the first book was "Mural Painting and Decoration" by Mario De Micheli but his brilliant translation of the great novel "In Search of Lost Time" by Marcel Proust became the masterpiece of this procedure. In the "Mehdi Sahabi; A Retrospective" show, the walls of the entrance hall of the museum are dedicated to his literary works. Some selected parts of his translations are placed on the wall; there are also pictures of the cover of his books and some manuscripts that are very pleasant to visit.

The photography, painting, and sculpture works of Sahabi are presented in galleries number seven, eight, and nine. Mehdi Sahabi, the photographer, is dynamic, gifted, tasteful, and sharp. In this show, we come across amazing pieces of Sahabi's photographs in the days of the 1979 Revolution, photographs that convey something more than news, although labeled journalistic.

It is more pleasant to me not to make any differences relating to media between Sahabi's paintings and sculptures because he engages his paintings with volume and also his volumetric works with paintings, whenever it's necessary. But in order to keep this brief description clear and straight, I call the works on the wall as "paintings" and the volumetric works as "sculptures". However, I emphasize that in my opinion, these two have no borders. In his paintings, he is in his most free state of himself. Scrap cars, figures, self-portraits, murals, masks, etc… Sahabi keeps working on each to achieve the desired result. The artist's behavior in each period of his career is in accordance with that collection, and basically, Sahabi's experiencing spirit did not allow him to stay in the same state.

Mehdi Sahabi | Installation view


The "Scrap Cars" which were showcased after the 8-year Iraq-Iran war, made clear references to the destruction. The extent of gray is reminiscent of hard days and the emptiness around cars and their scrap, as well as the naturalistic approach of Sahabi in the creation of these works, all point to the familiar bitterness.

The "Murals" collection is the result of the artist's encounter with the city. Sahabi had said somewhere that he has a good relationship with rap music. He also paid special attention to the rap-like visual culture, which we call "street murals". He shares with us his deep understanding of the city and the urban popular culture in this collection.

Mehdi Sahabi's sculptures were boundless and plain, he used paints, wood, spoons, clips, and everything available to make them. He disregarded volumetric subtleties and considered construction more important than anything; as a result, he created a bird or a face with the least manipulation and made it expressive with color. Some of Sahabi's works include self-portraits or portraits similar to the artist himself. I imagine Sahabi would turn to himself in between his urban/popular concerns and after accepting the bitterness of the time. He was reviewing himself and from this research, he came to the images that are before our eyes today. In his works, sometimes in the most personal situation, he was searching for his lost Mehdi Sahabi.

The provided opportunity is so valued to rediscover the works of an artist who did not repose, worked constantly, was an attractive and lovable character, and throughout his life, the word search became the golden keyword of his career.

Mehdi Sahabi | from Murals collection