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Timeline of Iranian Art & History
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 8000 BC 21st Century
Last Updated: October, 2009


The first protests of the Constitutional Revolution are triggered by an order to lower sugar prices. Muzaffar al-Din Shah finally agrees to proclaim a constitution and to establish a judiciary wing of the government, but is slow to institute the changes. Further protests staged at the British embassy lead to the creation of a parliament, or majlis, whose first session is held in 1906.


The Russians and the British sign an agreement that divides Persia into northern and southern spheres of influence.


Civil war erupts after the parliament refuses to grant concessions demanded by Russia and England. Russian troops enter Persia, occupy Tehran, and kill many prominent Constitutionalists. Other cities rise in rebellion against Muhammad cAli Shah (1872–1925), and he is forced to flee to Russia.


The first Academy of Fine Arts (the Madrasa-i Sanayi-i Mustazrafa) is founded by Kamal al-Mulk (1852–1940), who directs the school until 1927.


During World War I, Persia remains neutral but is occupied by British and Russian troops looking to control the country's oil reserves. Between 1919 and 1921, Persia agrees to become a British protectorate in order to avert occupation by Russia.


When the Persian parliament is reconvened, British protection is rejected and British troops are forced to withdraw. Reza Khan (1878–1944) takes advantage of the tumultuous situation, marching into Tehran and demanding that the shah name him commander of the military.

File:Reza Pahlavi.jpg

Reza Khan (1878–1944) deposes the last Qajar shah and proclaims himself head of the country, founding the Pahlavi dynasty. Many of his reforms parallel those in Turkey, and are meant to free the government from religious control. The culama establishment is weakened as oversight of education and law are taken over by the government, wearing of the veil is banned, and a new solar calendar is adopted. Various secular holidays based on ancient Persian traditions are instituted to replace religious ones. Reza Shah also constructs a Trans-Caspian Railroad linking the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea.


Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948) excavates at the Achaemenid capital of Persepolis, founded in the sixth century B.C. by the king Darius and destroyed in the fourth century B.C. by Alexander the Great.


Iran replaces Persia as the name of the country.


The College of Fine Arts opens at Tehran University for the propagation of principles of modern painting.


During World War II, the British and Russians demand free transit and military support from Reza Shah. When he refuses, their troops invade and depose him; his young son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi (1919–1980), takes the throne. After the war, the USSR refuses to remove its troops, and backs revolts in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, which briefly proclaim themselves autonomous republics. After Muhammad Reza Shah visits the United Nations, the USSR is pressured to withdraw from the country.


Iran becomes a constitutional monarchy.


Iran's first art gallery, Apadana, opens in Tehran.


Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq (1880–1967) decides to nationalize the oil industry, until now under the partial control of the British and their Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The National Iranian Oil Company is then formed to manage the industry. Europe and the United States immediately impose a boycott, and British and American secret service agencies plot to take Mosaddeq down. He is removed from power in 1953, and the Shah negotiates new agreements with European oil firms.


The first Tehran Biennial is organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture.


Abby Weed Grey begins collecting Middle Eastern and Asian contemporary art, which becomes the basis for the Grey Art Gallery at New York University in 1974.


The second Tehran Biennial of modern art is held at the Gulistan Palace.


Art critic Karim Emami uses the term saqqakhana to describe the sensibility of Hussein Zenderoudi's (born 1937) paintings, in which he incorporates motifs from Iranian folklore and Shici folk art. The term is then applied to a loosely affiliated group of artists who blend traditional elements and Western techniques, credited with initiating the modern art movement in Iran. In this year, the Exhibition of Iranian Contemporary Painters travels through the United States, the first modern Iranian art show to be presented there.


The shah launches the White Revolution, which aims at many social reforms, including raising literacy, reforming land ownership laws, and improving rights for industrial workers and women. Many clergy, including the Ayatollah Khomeini (1900–1989), lead uprisings against the shah; Khomeini is exiled in 1964.


The fifth and last biennial is held at the Ethnographic Museum in Tehran. It includes artists from Turkey and Pakistan.


at the Shiraz Festival 1976

The first Shiraz Cultural Festival is inaugurated by Queen Farah Pahlavi.


Iran occupies some Iraqi islands in the Persian Gulf and retains the territory after a 1975 settlement.


The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art is inaugurated. It is designed and directed by Kamran Diba (born 1937), the queen's cousin.


Jalal Al Ahmad's book Westoxication (Gharbzadagi) is openly distributed for the first time since its release in 1960.


While the country has prospered from oil sales and the shah has initiated various development projects, many Iranians are angry with the uneven distribution of wealth and the shah's refusal to comply with all aspects of the 1906 constitution. Demonstrations against his rule begin in 1976 and reach a head in 1979, when he is forced to flee the country. Ayatollah Khomeini returns from exile in France to claim power. He announces the Islamic Republic of Iran and institutes a new constitution. The arrival of this government signals a shift in the direction the country is heading, away from Western-style reforms and toward the revival of Islamic traditions. Foreign arts and music are banned and women must wear the hejab; many Westernized Iranians leave the country. When the shah is allowed entrance to the United States for medical care, a group of the ayatollah's student supporters occupy the American embassy to protest the shah's ties to the U.S. Some of the people trapped in the building are immediately released, but some fifty-two remain hostage for 444 days.


The war between Iran and Iraq commences. The ostensible cause for war is a dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway that lies between the two countries, control of which is still contested despite a 1975 agreement. Other causes might have been Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's fear that Khomeini's rise in Iran would upset the balance between the Shici and Sunni populations in his own country, and his opinion that the new Iranian government would be an easy target for attack. Tensions between the countries heighten after a 1980 assassination attempt on Iraqi foreign minister Tariq cAziz (born 1936) is organized by Al-Dacwah, a group backed by Iran. A number of border skirmishes quickly escalate into war once Iraq claims control of the Shatt al-Arab. The war rages inconclusively for eight years, with many casualties on both sides. Peace is finally brokered in 1988 after several other countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, become involved in the conflict.

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