A renowned Iranian-Canadian sculptor was barred from leaving the Islamic Republic on Saturday, the day before he was scheduled to speak at the British Museum.
Parviz Tanavoli said he was ready to board a flight to London at Tehran’s international airport when his passport was confiscated. Border control officials told him he would be unable to leave the country without providing any reason why, he added.
“I have no idea why they did it,” Tanavoli told The Guardian by phone. “I have not done anything wrong. … No one [at the passport office] told me anything, nor did anyone at the airport. I’m not a political person, I’m merely an artist.”
This is not the first time that the sculptor faced problems with Iranian authorities. Millions of dollars worth of his sculptures were seized and damaged by Iranian officials in 2014.
Tanavoli, who divides his time between Tehran and Vancouver, was flying to London to attend a signing event for his new book European Women in Persian Houses at the British Museum. He frequently travels to and from Tehran and across Europe without problems, the Associated Press reported.
The 79-year-old artist is considered the best-known living Persian artist. According to Artnet’s price database, his sculpture The Wall (Oh Persepolis) sold for $2.8 million at Christie’s Dubai in 2008, and his works are included in the permanent collections of both the British Museum and Tate Modern.
“They tell me soon my case will be sorted out. What case? When is soon? I have no idea.” Tanavoli said in an email to The Art Newspaper. The publication reached out to officials at the Iranian embassy in London, but they declined to comment.
In recent weeks, Iran has arrested a number of dual citizens in the country, including Canadian-Iranian academic Homa Hoodfar and Thomson-Reuters Foundation employee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at the airport, separated from her toddler, and charged with seeking to overthrow the government.
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