Iranian Artist Accused of Sexual Misconduct
By Ariana Heffner
The revered Iranian artist Aydin Aghdashloo has been accused of sexual misconduct, according to a report by Farnaz Fassihi in The New York Times on October 22.
The Times picked up the investigation after journalist Sara Omatali posted a Twitter thread on August 22 detailing an encounter with Aghdashloo in late 2006. Omatali claimed that when she arrived for an interview, the artist “greeted her while naked with a robe draped on his shoulder, forced a kiss and pressed his body on hers,” as stated in the Times. The original post has drawn thousands of likes and retweets, and apparently prompted other women to come forward with their experiences of sexual misconduct.
Fassihi spoke with 45 people, including gallerists, arts journalists, and Aghdashloo’s former students and teaching assistant, who noted that the artist’s impropriety toward young women “had been known in Iran’s art circles” but that few spoke out publicly for fear of retaliation given his prominent position as a teacher and consultant to members of the country’s elites. Among the 13 alleged victims interviewed by the Times, a 49-year-old photographer referred to as Maryam recounts being forcibly kissed and groped by Aghdashloo when she went to his studio in 2010 to pick up two paintings for the gallery she worked for at the time. A former student accused Aghdashloo of repeatedly molesting her in class when she was 13 years old; another said he offered her a USD 100,000 painting to have sex with him. One artist claimed that when she refused his advances, he retaliated by instructing galleries not to exhibit her work. A former teaching assistant confirmed that she had “witnessed frequent misbehavior by him toward female students,” and that he said “that women should consider his affection a privilege” when she confronted him. She later resigned after she was also allegedly assaulted by the artist.
Aghdashlooo has denied the accusations, stating to the Times: “The allegations of sexual abuse against me are full of significant inaccuracies, mischaracterizations and fabrications. To be clear, I have always sought to treat people with respect and dignity and I have never abused, assaulted nor taken advantage of anyone.” A number of people have come to the artist’s defense, such as his ex-wife, the actress Shoreh Aghdashloo, who asserted that he was “simply not capable of such heinous acts,” as well as a group of former students. Aghdashloo’s lawyer told the Times that he was suing over a Tweet by actress Laleh Sabouri, who took lessons with the artist for two years, that suggested “accusations of rape would be ‘befitting.’”
Aghdashloo was previously accused of sexual assault in 2018. Journalist Afshin Parvaresh reportedly spoke with 21 victims, one of whom was a minor at the time. Parvaresh claimed that the revelations attracted violent threats; Aghdashloo’s lawyer told the Times that the artist had nothing to do with the intimidation.
The #MeToo movement, which began in 2017, has been slow to take off in Iran, where sexual violence is rarely prosecuted or even reported. The arrest of Keyvan Emamverdi, a bookshop owner exposed as a serial rapist on social media and reported to authorities by 30 of his alleged victims, marked a tentative, if high-profile, turn for the deeply conservative society. In the public announcement of Emamverdi’s arrest, the Tehran police chief, General Hossein Rahimi, encouraged victims to come forward.
According to the Times, three survivors of alleged abuse by Aghdashloo are considering legal action.
Ariana Heffner is an editorial and design intern at ArtAsiaPacific.