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LONDON — Two Australians have become the first international artists to be commissioned to complete a work of public art in Iran's capital, Tehran.
Fintan Magee and Guido Van Helten were invited to mark the 50th anniversary of Australia’s Embassy in Tehran by creating a mural.
The pair spent three weeks traveling around the country, and found inspiration in two men repairing carpets by hand at a bazaar in Kashan, about 120 miles south of Tehran.
“We decided we wanted to do something close to Persian culture, something at least the locals could relate to in some way,” said Magee, 33.
Their resulting six-story tall work is called "The Carpet Repairmen." It was jointly commissioned by the Australian Embassy and the Tehran City Council.
"The Persian carpet is in so many households around the world and a lot of people identify with that, so it’s a way to kind of bridge some understanding between that culture and the West using a very obvious symbol,” said Van Helten, 32.
Most Western embassies closed their doors and withdrew their diplomats during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but Australia's outpost remained operational.
Tehran's murals served as anti-Western propaganda during the revolution while others later paid tribute to those who fought and died in the Iran-Iraq war.
Local artists are now increasingly using vacant walls to try to beautify the city.
“There has been a big movement of contemporary mural art going on, so it was not that unusual that someone was painting a wall there," Van Helten said. "But for them to allow foreign artists to do it was a new thing."
The pair said they were warmly received in Tehran during their visit late last year.
“I was working in the U.S. just before, and a lot of people have a very skewed vision of what it must be like there," Van Helten said. "But it’s part of their culture to be very hospitable to guests."