Iranian-American Karan Vafadari and his wife Afarin Niasari, owners of Aun Gallery in Tehran, have been held in the infamous Evin Prison since their arrest in July 2016 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
On July 20, 2016, IRGC agents stopped Niasari at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport as she was about to board a flight. She was told to call her husband and ask him to meet her at the airport. When he arrived, the couple was detained.
The following day, Vafadari and Niasari were taken to their Tehran home in handcuffs. IRGC agents removed artworks on the walls, then damaged, destroyed or confiscated the pieces. The agents then went to Aun Gallery to do the same.
Days after the couple were taken to Evin Prison, which is often where political prisoners, intellectuals and members of the Baha’i or Zoroastrian faiths are held, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi released a statement to indicate that “two Iranian dual nationals” had been charged with displaying “unethical and inappropriate art,” organizing mixed-gender parties for foreign diplomats, and serving alcohol at their home. Under Iran’s constitution, Zoroastrians are not banned from consuming alcohol. Vafadari is of Zoroastrian faith. Vafadari and Niasari have been barred from seeking legal counsel during their detention.
Vafadari’s sister, Kateh, who resides in Washington, DC, penned a letter to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in December 2016, alleging that the case was fabricated and the couple had faced “extortion, property seizure and national security threats.” On March 8, 2017, Kateh released an update on her blog “Free Karan & Afarin,” detailing new charges that the couple are facing, including “attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran,” “recruiting and signing up spies through foreign embassies,” and “assembly and collusion against national security.”
Established in 2009, Aun Gallery was Tehran’s first privately owned contemporary art space. The gallery organized 10 to 11 exhibitions per year, including for trailblazing Iranian artists such as painter and silkscreen printer Khosrow Hassanzadeh, installation artist Mahmoud Bakhshi, sculptor Sahand Hesamiyan and renowned ceramist Abbas Akbari. The gallery has been closed since the couple’s arrest.
This is a developing story that will be covered in ArtAsiaPacific’s May/June issue.
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