The Paykan was the first car manufactured in Iran. Produced from 1967 to 2015, it started its life as a licensed copy of an outmoded British vehicle, the Hillman Hunter, but it nevertheless became a symbol of Iranian national pride; a vehicle priced and targeted for middle-class Iranians.
Paykans eventually became ubiquitous on the streets of Tehran, serving as sedans, wagons, pickups and taxis; a universal symbol of the economic engine of a country, and a people. In 1974, as a token of connection (or collusion) between two regimes, the shah of Iran gave a Paykan limousine to Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian dictator.
That very car made news again this past May amongst Iranians, at home and in the expat community, when it appeared for sale at a Bucharest auction house. Though it had an expected hammer price of 10,000 euros, it ended up selling for €95,000. It has now resurfaced, colourfully painted by queer Iranian artist and activist Alireza Shojaian, arriving just this past week for the first time in Montreal.
Shojaian’s inspiration for what is now dubbed the “PaykanArtCar” draws from the Ghahvehkhaneh school of Iranian screen-reading, and the battle of Sohrab and Shaban, a spinoff created by folk Iranian storytellers referencing the Shahnameh, the Persian book of Kings. With this work, Shojaian subverts the image of Sohrab and Shaban, traditionally patriarchal symbols, into homosexual characters. An audacious political statement for a country whose lore and political identity is steeped in homophobia.
The piece is also inspired by Ali Fazeli Monfared, a 20-year-old gay man who was reportedly beheaded by family members when his sexuality was discovered.
“Iran is one of the few remaining countries still responding to homosexuality with capital punishment. With the PaykanArtCar, I hope to give visibility to the strength and emotion of queer culture that has long been hidden in the region with my artwork titled ‘Sous le ciel de Shiraz’,” says Shojaian. “The persistent myth that homosexuality is a Western import outright denies the existence of LGBTQ+ Iranians. Because of this, I did not depict a rainbow in this work, rather, I showed an iris, the flower named for the goddess who created the rainbow.”
But the car as a ‘vehicle’ for political symbolism and activism doesn’t stop with Shojaian’s work. PaykanArtCar will choose and commission an exceptional Iranian artist to use the vehicle as a canvas in support of the ongoing struggle in Iran for human rights. The purpose is simple: to use art and a beloved symbol of national pride to promote the rights of all Iranians no matter creed, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.
The “PaykanArtCar” will be at 550 Richmond Ave. in Montreal until 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
Cody is the Editor in Chief and senior contributor at liminul.
He is a photography aficionado, fashion enthusiast, avid Lana Del Rey fan, and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.