“My entire childhood and adolescence was about manners. In addition to home, I was required to be polite and clean at school too. The assistant principal spoke in praise of manners every morning and the calligraphy teacher asked us to repeat lines commending manners. But outside home and school it was very different. No one else was as clean as we were. On the streets we sometimes ran into men who used dirty words to call each other’s mothers and sisters, suggesting intimate relations with them. I have never forgotten some of those scenes from life back then.”
In the early 1960s Parviz Tanavoli created a collection of which only a few images have been published before. In this collection, different from his other works, he created a writing board like those used in grade school to teach penmanship, and on top in elegant Nasta’liq calligraphy wrote a line, which he then repeated in dashed lines below. What made this work avant-garde at the time and set it apart from the art of its time was Tanavoli’s conceptual approach to the canvas. There is no sign of calligraphy-paintings in this series, and no sign of figures and imagery. It doesn’t even have any colors. What the viewer sees is a line of writing and the dashed lines running the length of the canvas below.
In his selection of the written line Tanavoli cleverly placed the viewer in the same position he has had in society throughout childhood and adulthood. In Iranian society and social-political history people have permanently been in the position of being advised: the king is always a shepherd and the masses the flock.
Tanavoli recalls, “All I remember from school is being advised to be clean, polite, and to study. But the person giving the advice never met his own responsibilities. They inspected our uniforms every morning to make sure they were clean and free of spots, without bothering to clean the streets and the town square. And without the government meeting the minimum standards of public health in the school or throughout the city.”2
Based on the series mentioned above and using images from it Parviz Tanavoli has created two collections of hand-colored Screen-prints, which are reminiscent of the schoolbooks from his youth. The collections “Manners” and “Exercise Writing” are based on what he created fifty years ago, like the writing boards given to children to teach them writing and manners through the repetition of phrases and poems.
The exhibition “Universal Icons” alongside the exhibition “Exercise Writing” celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Pop Art in Iran as well as Iranian Pop Art in the world. It also happens to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Parviz Tanavoli’s “Heech”.