Iranian sculptor Parviz Tanavoli, whose passport border officials confiscated last week at Tehran’s international airport, says he faces accusations of “disturbing the public peace” with his artworks. The artist told the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) that he received the news on Sunday, while in Iran’s special court that is tasked with dealing with issues related to culture and media.
“I learnt this morning in court that the police had accused me of publishing false information and disturbing the public peace,” he said. “They told me my sculptures are examples of disturbing the public peace.” Police reportedly did not immediately confirm his claim. Tanavoli is best known for his angular, bronze sculptures that draw inspiration from the lines of calligraphy, which he has also translated into fiberglass and neon works. On July 2, he was en route to London to give a speech at the British Museum on his new book, European Women in Persian Houses, and at the Asia Society on the role of the lion in Iran. Until Sunday — over one week later — Tanavoli had remained in the dark as to why immigration police had confiscated his passport. He previously told Hyperallergic that he suspected that his new publication’s cover — which features a painting of a bare-breasted woman — was what triggered his travel ban.
“I have worked for 50 years and so far none of my works have had any problems,” Tanavoli, who had his first US museum retrospective last year at the Davis Museum, told ILNA. According to the Art Newspaper, he may face a fine or even imprisonment for the charges.
Tanavoli still does not have his passport and is, therefore, unable to leave Iran. Yesterday, a group of supporters launched a petition on Change.org calling on Tehran’s Prosecutor’s Office of Culture and the Media to lift the travel ban, writing that Tanavoli’s artworks and books “are no threat to the public mind.” It currently has over 250 signatures.
Update, 7/20: Tanavoli received his passport last weekend and has returned to Vancouver. The situation was apparently unrelated to censorship issues: authorities, as the Vancouver Sun reported, eventually “learned the complaint stemmed from a woman who appeared to have a grudge against Tanavoli, and was trying to get him to give her some of his sculptures … The woman got someone she knows in Iran’s federal police to detain Tanavoli at the airport.” Any charges held against Tanavoli were then dropped.