IRAN: The writing on the wall in Tehran
For the last four years Amir Ali has made spraying the walls of the Iranian capital with colorful designs his mission in life. His signature, or tag as graffiti artists call it, is "Bam-Bam," after the tough little kid Bamm-Bamm in "The Flintstones" cartoon series. Babylon & Beyond recently caught up with him.
“Two or three times I have been chased by police in Tehran while I was putting my signature 'Bam-Bam' at the end of my drawing," he said. "Once the police officer even threatened he would shoot his gun, but I did not listen and I just ran and fled from the scene.”
Believe it or not, the 18-year-old high school student is part of a coterie of like-minded graffiti and underground artists prowling the streets, viaducts and bridges of Tehran.
"This is A1one,from Tehran," writes the blogger at the visually dazzling website Tehran Walls. "Maybe i am a vandal or anarchist. But I am glad to introduce my self as one. At least i stand for my right."
The tough-as-nails graffiti artists take pride in daring the authorities by attacking the capital's ubiquitous government-sponsored murals, and then showing off about it on the web. Just last month, some graffitists went at a mural "in one of the most crowded and important squares of the capital," spray-painting designs on an image "showing two fathers with their kids on shoulders, walking in a very heavenly path next to an apartment," reports the Iran Graffiti and Urban Art Report, a blog that collects images of public guerilla art and stories from Tehran graffitists.
Nowadays, graffiti pops up all over Tehran and authorities rarely bother to wipe it off or paint it over, as long as it's not political, which neither Amir Ali nor the other bloggers are.
“I do not draw anything related to politics," he said. "I do social things, about traffic noises and sound pollution, thugs, tramps and gangs," he said. “Firstly I am too young for politics. I do not know who is who in politics. Secondly isn’t it too dangerous?"
Still, authorities look at the grafitti artists with extreme suspicion. "In fact we have no laws yet, but they consider everything to be political," the artist A1one told the Japanese design website PingMag last year. "If a young person sprays a wall they probably think that this person is with the Americans and wants to make a revolution or is obsessed with the West or something."
Like avante garde artists all over, Amir-Ali also worries that authorities are trying to co-opt them. Recently the local division of an international cellphone company paid him and a friend about $300 to do a billboard, with government permission.
“Now, it's become fashionable," he said of graffiti art.
— Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photos: Works by graffiti artist Amir Ali, aka Bam-Bam, appear on walls, bridges and viaducts across Tehran. Credit: Amir Ali