01 Sep

Profile: Ruyin Pakbaz [1939 – ]

Ruyin Pakbaz (1939, Tehran) is a prominent Iranian art historian, critic, educator and painter.  He studied painting at Tehran University (1967) and then pursued his studies in France (1976). Upon returning to Iran, he began his teaching career by teaching Art history at the Department of Fine Arts, Tehran University. A pioneering scholar, in academic history of art in Iran, Pakbaz has dedicated a good share of his life to researching art history, writing and translating. Some of his books have long been the standard texts for students of arts in Iranian universities.

The greatest of his numerous works so far is perhaps The Encyclopedia of Art (1999), dedicated mainly to painting, sculpture, and graphic design, while pottery, calligraphy, music, and architecture are also discussed. With more than 2800 entries, the encyclopedia is concerned primarily with Iranian art and Iranian Contemporary Arts, making it one of the milestones of Iranian art historiography. The Encyclopedia of Art, arguably the finest and the most accurate of the kind, concerns various artists, styles, schools, materials, tools, technical terminology, and aesthetics. In the first appendix to the book, Pakbaz deals with historical developments in Iranian Arts and then analyses common motifs in Iranian Art such as religions and gods, and events. The last appendix –being one of the most valuable aspects of the work– presents Persian equivalents and similar expressions to over 1580 loanwords.

Pakbaz has also authored Dictionary of Art Terms and Artists (2010) which is one of the most accurate and trustworthy bilingual art dictionaries in the Persian language. Possessing the meticulousness that writing a dictionary demands, Pakbaz makes a considerable effort in compiling the Persian equivalent of the art terms that tend to be used in their original French and English among Iranian artists. He even manages to coin/retrieve a good number of clever Persian equivalents that are gradually being established in Iranian artistic debates and literature.

His title Iranian Painting: from Prehistoric Era to the Present Day (2000) is the most comprehensive research on Iranian Painting. By categorizing the history of painting in Iran into four periods (Old Ages, Middle Ages, New Era and Contemporary Era), Pakbaz chooses to emphasize the stylistic characteristics and identity of the works in each era rather than adopting a mere sociopolitical approach which has proven itself to be an irrelevant method in  many cases. Despite the fact that he acknowledges the common yet inaccurate and overlapping terms in explaining the history of Iranian painting, he casts a light on the history of Iranian painting by his resourceful classification. What makes the book even more significant among other books of the kind is its last chapter which deals with new wave of Iranian painters, a part that can be a lead for other scholars of the field to build up on.

In his title The Guide to Techniques and Material: Drawing and Painting (2010), he fills the technical gap in his publications by incorporating his experiences in painting with the latest knowledge of the field into a textbook that is a veritable source for novice painters and an invaluable reference for accomplished artists, collectors and students of arts.

In Search of a New Language: A Study of the Evolution of Painting in New Era Painting (2002) is Pakbaz’s attempt to manifest the formation process of the language of new paintings in the context of the cultural-social evolution of the New Era? In these over 600 pages worth of research, he presents the reader with the role of various abstract and concrete factors in emergence of different styles in painting both internationally and locally.

His translation of Sandro Boccola’s seminal work Art of Modernism: Art, Culture, and Society from Goya to the Present Day (1999) is his most popular work of translation among his other translations which include  the Persian rendering of M.M. Ashraf’s, Concordance of Painting with Literature in Iran (1988) and Richard Ettinghausen’s Highlights of Persian Art[1] (2000).

Pakbaz is currently living in Tehran, teaching history of art, mostly at private institutions and reportedly working on a four-volume art encyclopedia that will encompass graphics and photography while he expands some of the previously established subjects like painting, sculpting, calligraphy, and architecture.

15 Feb

Bijan Najdi [1941-1997]

Bijan Najdi (15 November 1941 in Khash, Iran – 25 August 1997 in Lahijan, Iran) was an Iranian short story writer and poet best known for his collection The Leopards Who Have Run with Me, which was his only short story collection published during his life time. Later, his wife published a few more of his works in collections like Down the Same Streets Again, Unfinished Stories, and a more recent poetry collection titled Reality Is My Dream.

Najdi had a degree in mathematics and worked as a high school teacher in the city of Lahijan. His father was one of the communist officers who fought in the riot of Khorasan Army in August 1945 and was subsequently killed by a number of guards while escaping the military base. In 1970, he married Parvaneh Mohseni Azad with whom he had two children. Bijan Najdi died of lung cancer at the age of 56 on 25 August 1997 in Lahijan.

Najdi flickered only for a very short period in the sky of Iranian fiction writing. While he lived no more than 56 years, he started his literary career only three years prior to his death. Despite his short-time career, he was awarded many literary prizes in Iran including the Gardoon Literary Award in 1995. In 2000, his posthumous work, Down the Same Streets Again was the elected work by Journalists and Press Critics. He also won the Farapooyan Poetry Award and a few other prizes for both his prose and poetry. Najdi wrote poems both in his mother tongue, Gilaki, and Persian. A few of his short stories were also adopted after his death for short films.

Najdi is considered as one of the pioneer Iranian postmodern writers whose writings flows between realism, surrealism and magic realism. His prose is characterized by a rich metaphorical language, innovative similes, personifications, poetic exaggerations, stream of consciousness, and a nonlinear narrative style. The narrators in his stories easily identify with inanimate objects. That makes it effortless to claim that he is the one to put emphasis on nonhuman characters more than any other Iranian contemporary fiction writer. Not being classified as a political writer, he occasionally depicts desperate characters on the verge of giving up their hopes, in order to reflect the challenging political conditions of the society.

The most prominent characteristic of Najdi’s fiction is the poetic language and the bold lyricism in his narrative style. He is perhaps the most successful Iranian contemporary fiction writer to have amalgamated poetry and fiction in an artistic yet plebeian manner. It’s fair to claim that his stories are lengthy lyrics in prose. Despite the fact that his experimental style has brought about a lot of controversies among the literary critics, he has successfully opened a new window to the world of fiction by his poetic style like no other Iranian contemporary novelist has done.

Not quite a political writer, he tackled many issues in Iranian contemporary history and politics such as the Iran-Iraq War, the rise of communism in Iran, the issue of political prisoners, the Jungle Movement of Gilan[1] and the Siahkal incident[2]. Despite the fact that a few of his stories are particularly about war and other notable historical events, he tends to build up his fiction around trivial issues without necessarily being followed by an incident. His narrators are often very humane in their attitude and his tone is very humble and intimate. He identifies with the most vulnerable cast of characters, ranging from a racing horse that is doomed to draw a cart to the point that the cart becomes a part of its flesh, to an old couple with no children who hire a dead infant to bury him as their own child.

In his endeavor to write experimental stories with versatile themes, motifs, and settings, he usually builds his stories around a supernatural incident which is followed by the reactions of his realistic characters as if tackling an ordinary issue. This is the dominant characteristic of his fiction for which it can be classified as magic realism. For example, in his story “A Native American in Astara”, he artistically portrays a displaced Native American character with a magical fluid that he offers to two Iranian townsfolk as a souvenir, leading them to reveal a local truth through the foreign magical reality that the Native American personage offers. The story is portrayed through fragmented flashbacks to the life of a Native American tribe as a story within a story. The Native American extra layer enables Najdi to echo the supposedly forbidden issue of the massacre of Kurds in a language that is thick with symbols and metaphors.

Najdi had been living far from the literary circles in the capital Tehran for the most part of his life. However, his rich prose and the array of techniques he employs to compose his stories make him the subject of many academic studies in his homeland. His renowned story collection, The Leopards Who Have Run with Me‌, is perhaps among the most debated and reviewed works of fiction in the last decades in the Iranian literary scene.

[1] A local rebellion against the monarchist rule of the Qajar central government of Iran from 1914 to 1921.
[2] A guerrilla operation against Pahlavi government organized by Iranian People’s Fadaee Guerrillas that happened near Siahkal town in Gilan on February 8, 1971.


  • The Leopards Who Have Run with Me (1994)
  • Down the Same Streets Again (Markaz: 2000)
  • Unfinished Stories (Markaz: 2001)
  • The Sisters of this Summer (Mahriz: 2002)
  • Reality is My Dream (Markaz: 2013)


08 Dec

Gholamhossein Sa’edi [1936 – 1985]

We Iranians who had among us Sa’edi, the physician-dramatist that taught us how to anatomize social maladies both on the stage and on the screen, know what grace it is when art and science come together in an artist. We already know what surgical operations the likes of Chekhov can perform in the realms of culture and social change.

Behzad Ghaderi

Physician writers in Persian literature are handful, and yet none has been as influential as Gholam-Hossein Saedi.

Saedi was born on January 4, 1936 Tabriz and passed away on November 23, 1985 in Paris. A short biography written by him reads:

Gholam Hossein Sa’edi was born to a middle-class family in 1314 solar [1935] in Tabriz. His father was a simple government employee. He attended elemnetray and high school in Tabriz. During his high school, which coincided with the pre-1935 coup, he had plenty of time and opportunity for reading and writing. He was responsible for three Persian newspapers in Tabriz while he was still a high school student. After the coup, he was arrested and imprisoned for a short time. He then entered medical school [at Tabriz University]. It was during this period that he started writing short stories for monthly periodicals. In his last years of medical school, he published a collection of short stories, Shab-neshini-e Bashokoh (An Elegant Party, pub. 1960), and two plays, Bamha va zire Bamha (Roofs and Beneath Roofs), and Kalateh Gol (the Name of an Iranian Village).

The first play was about the constitutional revolution, and the second one about the confiscation of lands by Reza Shah. This play was confiscated from bookstores by the police.

After finishing medical school, he was drafted into the army. Although he was named the top student in the field of primitive medicine at the military college, because of his past political activities he was given the rank of “Sarbaz-sefr” [ordinary private rather than an officer, which is ordinary conferred on all graduates]. After his military service [1962], he spent some time in the villages. Then he started his specialty in psychiatry [at Tehran University]. After obtaining his degree, he started working at a mental hospital while writing and publishing stories and plays until he was fired by SAVAK in 1968. His plays were regularly staged at Tehran’s Sanglaj Theatre.

He also had a private office next to Tehran’s old cemetery, Mesgarabad, for fifteen years, but took advantage of any opportunity to travel and observe all Iran. The fruits of his travelling in addition to stories and novels, were some monographs he wrote about villages and towns and one monograph concerning native [psychological] diseases of the south entitled Ahl-e Hava (The People of the Wind, 1966).

He has repeatedly been arrested and imprisoned by the police and SAVAK for “political activities.” In 1974, he went to Semnan (218 km east Tehran) to write another monograph about rural areas, and was hunted there by SAVAK. He spent one year in solitary confinement, and endured severe physical torture, the scars of which still remain. After his release, he devoted all his time to writing. Presently, he is preparing some monographs for publication. For the moment, he has left his medical practice. He is interested in anthropology, is single and lives alone.


BOZORGMEHR, FARIDOZAMAN. The American University, ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 1982. 1320133


Short Story Collections
  • Houses of Shahr-e Rey (Khaneh-haye Shahr-e Rey)
  • A Magnificent Party (Shab Neshini-e Bashokouh)(1960)
  • Mourners of Bayal (Azadaran-e Bayal)(1964)
  • Dandil (1966)
  • The Grave and the Cradle (Gour va Gahvareh)(1977)
  • Nameless and Elusive Apprehensions (Vahemeh-haye Bi Namo Neshan)(1967)
  • Fear and Trembling (Tarso Larz) (1968)
  • The Cannon (Tup) (1969)
  • Stranger in Town (Gharibeh Dar Shahr) (1990)
  • The Grinning Tartar (Tatar-e Khandan) (1994)
  • The End to Endless Writing (Aghebat Ghalam Farsai)(1975)
  • Long A, short A (Aye Ba Kolah, Aye Bi Kolah) (1967)
  • Tehran, directed by Jaʿfar Vāli, 1967; tr. Giselle Kapuscinski as “O Fool, O Fooled,” in idem, Modern Persian Drama, New York, 1987.
  • The World’s Best Dad (Behtarin Babaye Donya) (1965)
  • An eye for an eye (Cheshm dar barbare Cheshm) (1971)
  • Club wielders of Varazil (Choub Be Dast-haye Varazil) (1965)
  • Dictation and Angle (Dikteh Va Zavieh) (1969)
  • The Successor (Janeshin) (1970)
  •  The Flower Hamlet (Kalat-e Gol) (1961)
  •  Housewarming(Khaneh Roshani) (1967)
  • (Kārbāfakhā dar sangar), 1960; tr. David Chambers et al. as “Workaholics in Trenches”, in M. R. Ghanoonparvar, ed., Iranian Drama, Costa Mesa, 1989, pp. 1-63.
  • Māh-e ʿasal, Tehran, 1978, tr. James Clark et al. as “Honeymoon,” in M. R. Ghanoonparvar, ed., Iranian Drama: an Anthology, Costa Mesa, 1989, pp.63-132.
  • Mar dar maʿbad (A snake in the temple), Tehran, 1993.
  • Otello dar sarzamin-e ʿajāyeb (Paris, 1986), tr. as Othello in Wonderland, by Michael Phillips and M.R. Ghanoonparvar, Calif. 1996.
  • Panj nemāyešnāma az enqelāb-e mašruṭiyat (Five plays on the Constitutional Revolution), Tehran, 1966.
  • Pardadārān-e āʾina afruz, Paris, 1986; tr. Michael Phillips and M.R. Ghanoonparvar as Mirror-polishing storytellers, Calif. 1996.
  • Parvārbandān (The fattened lot, Figure 7), Tehran, 1969.
  • Pigmalion, a free translation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, Tabriz, 1956.
  •  Vāy bar maḡlub (Woe to the vanquished), Tehran, 1970; staged by Dāvud Rašidi, 1970.