WEB POSTER EXHIBITION - Posters by Mehdi Saeedi, Iran

This web exhibition accompanies the recent exhibition of posters Eastern by Mehdi Saeedi at the Brick City Gallery Department of Art & Design, Missouri State University, Springfield, Missouri, USA, from March 4 to April 20, 2011. The pictures were kindly provided by Mehdi Saeedi, and I wrote the text as an introduction to his work in his upcoming book.

The Other Half of the World  

The conquest of the western world by Iranian graphic designers, carefully planned and executed by Morteza Momayez and his chiefs of staff, started quietly in the spring of 2001 with an exhibition in Tehran of "Self-promotional Posters of Iranian Graphic Designers" at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. It was, as Momayez explained in the preface of the catalogue, a question of "To be or not to be", also a stock taking, and in retrospect, a roll calls before the attack, to stay with the military metaphor. The catalogue includes a work of Mehdi Saeedi, then 21 years old, showing a picture of a raised hand, a remarkable predecessor to David Tartakover's famous poster "Free Hand Design", to be published three years later.

The breakthrough came in November 2002 in Echirolles, France, with a poster exhibition "A Persian Cry" curated by Alain Le Quernec which introduced contemporary Iranian poster design and designers to the western world, for those who had missed an earlier web exhibition of Iranian posters on Poster Page (www.posterpage.ch).  

My first encounter with a work of Mehdi Saeedi, from whom I had never heard before, occurred in Kharkov, Ukraine, at the 5th Triennial of Eco Posters, "4th Block", in April 2003, and the impression was so strong that I still could easily point out the place where it hung in the exhibition hall. It was a red grenade with a smoking fuse, maybe also a globe with the mirror image of Africa on it, or possibly a pomegranate fruit, no text, disturbingly realistic. I instantly decided that I was not going to like it. It was during a time in my life that I thought a good poster has to have a clear meaning, and before I realized that this position would prevent me from enjoying a large part of today's best posters. The intensity of the red glow of Mehdi's poster may have contributed to my subsequent change of mind. I was also worried at the time that it might be a bit risky to openly admire a picture that I did not quite understand, of a ticking time bomb, drawn by an Iranian whom I did not know. Nevertheless, I could not get it out of my head and decided to show it on Poster Page.  

Anyway, when I had a chance to go to Tehran for the 8th International Poster Biennale in February 2004, I absolutely had to see this young designer and his colleagues, but since our schedule was a bit tight, I had to choose between going to Isfahan, the most beautiful city in the world, and seeing Mehdi Saeedi's studio. I opted for Mehdi, to the consternation of our hosts, as Isfahan for Iranians is said to be "one half of the world".  I don't regret my decision, but to be honest, I had been to Isfahan before, albeit 40 years ago.  

Mehdi's studio was on a busy street in the center of Tehran, you had to climb up a narrow staircase to reach the tiny place, reminding me of the Odermatt & Tissy studio in Zurich: a white chair, an old white table, a PC, not much else. Mehdi was not yet fluent in English at that time but showed me some of his posters and designs on the monitor, and as I did not quite understand how he had made them, he wrote "Poster Page" in Iranian with a special wide fountain pen and showed me the bamboo pen used in traditional Iranian calligraphy. I then realized that this young man is a master in both the traditional techniques and styles and can write and draw well, and is also skilled in current graphic computer techniques and open to western influences, and enjoys experimenting and integrating and combining the two worlds.  

In the Iranian exhibition in La Louviere, Belgium, later that year, his calligraphy poster "Le Printemps Persan" was placed side by side with that of the old Iranian master calligrapher Mohammad Ehsai, for the "Bologna Book Fair", and easily held its place; the two treats appearing to come from the same kitchen, although from different cooks. One more observation: In the discussions after the seminar talks on Iranian typography in Basel, Switzerland in 2007, speaker Ebrahim Haghighi was asked how today's artists feel about classical calligraphy, the daily practice it requires, the elaborate tools, the time it takes. "They all hate it", Professor Haghighi replied dryly, and to my objection  that Mehdi Saeedi often uses it in his posters, he said "Saeedi is an exception". Indeed.   

A few words about Mehdi Saeedi's poster work: Characteristically, Saeedi's posters are strikingly fresh, unusual and entirely modern. I "understand" very little, as I cannot read the text, nor do I know the Iranian cultural background and history, nor the symbolic value of colors and shapes, nor the Iranian visual traditions or the secrets of calligraphy.  I am probably seduced by their exotic "1000 and one night" flavor on the one hand, and their elegance in composition on the other hand.  Having seen too many misinterpretations, I am skeptical of the dream of "graphic design as universal language". Nevertheless, I feel the revolutionary breeze in the "Hossein" poster, the lightness of the air in the "18th Fajr Music Festival", the drama in "Noah's Ark", the movement in" Moalavi Typography"; I hear the rhythm in "14th Music Festival Zekro-Zakerin", and I shiver about the crow in his latest "The New Symbol of Peace".  

Mehdi Saeedi's posters are now receiving international attention, and I hope that the early success in his career does not spoil him, and that he keeps his curiosity and his ability to look forward and backward at the same time.

Rene Waner

2001, Sadegh Hedayat (the first iranian typography exhibition)

2003, World about to explode

2004, The 14th ritual music festival (zekro zakeri)

2005, First biennial of iranian typography posters

2002, The Iranian look, a selection of works by Iranian photographers in the Tehran museum of contemporary art

2005, "A well digger is at the well's bottom "Iranian proverbs"

2006, Ladies and Gentlemen, I represent the new symbol of peace

2003, Exhibition of the selective works by French Artist: Armando Pierre Fernandez

2004?, The first meeting for introducing Tehran cultural personality of the year

2004, Three iranian looks

2005, Student omreh

2005, The 21th Fajr international music festival

2005, At the end of a dark night is light

2006, The Persian proverbs "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"

2007, Shams-e Tabrizi Festival

2007, Modernist art in Iran (zhazeh tabtabaee)

2008, The 1. International Photography Biennial of the Islamic World

2008, The tribute to the meeting of Shams and Rumi

2008, The congress of social pathology in Iran

2009, Yek Dast, Mehdi Saeedi's poster exhibition

2009, Shigeo Fukuda 1932 - 2009

2009, The sorrow

2010, and God created man free

2009, Paroles Sacrees, Mehdi Saeedi's fine arts exhibition

2010, The 1st international festival of visual arts University students

2010, black, white, color; photography exhibition by Jamshid Bayrami

2010, I'm in Love, artistic Reflections on Calligraphy and Typography "Yunus Emre"

2011, I'm in Love, artistic Reflections on Calligraphy and Typography "Yunus Emre"


home   previous exhibitions  page created on May 3, 2011 / this section is part of Rene Wanner's Poster Page /