Firoozeh Dumas reflects on Iran’s past and future through art

Written by By Yunior Romero, CNN Paris, France

Since early in the 20th century, renowned architect Firoozeh Dumas has been responsible for transforming the Musee des Arts Decoratifs (MAD) into the largest and most important international art museum in Iran.

However, Dumas’ world and culture revolve both according to his own ideals and those of the authorities in Iran. He continues to play his part in shaping Iran’s modern architectural landscape, actively working in the international arena until his death at the age of 84 in 1988.

Born in Tehran in 1932, Dumas was a pure product of Iran’s nationalistic regime. Building, and in particular home design, became a means of assertion for his generation, displaying an exuberance that outlasted that of his country’s present-day political realities.

Dumas’ creations include monuments to resistance to the Ayatollahs, as well as the new Governor’s house and a yearning for modernity he might not have experienced himself during his days of isolation from the capital.


Courtesy the Firoozeh Dumas Foundation

To endow the Mad with the necessary resources for its expansion, some of Dumas’ heritage was to be found in Europe. But to those who do not know his work, his pledge to relocate the art to Tehran is, for many, little more than an enigma.

Because Dumas’ attempts to gain national recognition for this design kicked up some strong opposition, some question why the Banqer museum is now situated outside the center of Tehran.

However, it seems clear to me that the MAD is not just a place for general understanding of Dumas’ achievements but more a gesture of defiance towards governmental wishes — he established the MAD with his own funds and always intended to finance it fully.

His late father “Tikhmous” worked in his trade independently, despite the fact that they could not properly afford to do so. If Dumas and his contemporaries are told that they are unable to make the case for themselves, they will refuse to be silenced. In many ways, the MAD is a sign of defiance.

What Dumas wanted

No matter the political context, Dumas always made his intentions clear from the outset. He hoped to create a place for the display of Iranian material. Had his sketches and design ever seen the light of day, they would have revealed a house for his family.

Dumas pictured on the family’s balcony in 1952. Credit: Courtesy the Firoozeh Dumas Foundation

Today, the house’s contents present a different picture. Taking up an entire second floor, the apartment is filled with works from the leading Iranian artists.

Mousa Sobhani’s portrait exhibition and his paintings on local Iranian characters of the 1920s are some of the standout pieces, even more than his drawings of famous personalities such as Ines Rouvani and Mehrangiz Golbarnezhad.

The exhibition portrays the founding portrait of Andujar Vali, an Iraqi Arabian motif

One of his highlights is work made for the daily activities of the family. In addition to 19 paintings, he produced 22 different copies of the Quran for use by his wife and themselves, and he produced a series of cut canvases to cover all of the front yards of the house.

Dumas designed the gallery to include a single room where the exhibition continues, and uses a dark, sober and slightly grubby color palette that reflects the urban surroundings in which it is displayed.

Click here to find out more about this story and learn more about the Firoozeh Dumas Foundation

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