‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is not simply an exhibition, it is a portal to another world, a world of colour, vibrancy and life; past histories wound up and laid bare for all to see. The exhibition is an invitation into stories of the past, of personal journeys from the East to West and the evolution of Iran.

The show is curated by Sara Makari-Aghdam, who is of Persian, Turkish and English descent. Her father left Iran in 1974, only a few years before the revolution, and this heritage provides the core inspiration to the exhibition. The show is composed of the work of five artists, three of whom lived through the Iranian Revolution, yet only one remains and works in Iran today. Following the revolution, there was a huge cultural shift for the arts, as prior to this regime in Iran had been very westernised in its thinking. Yet with revolution came censorship and both the art and music world were stifled. ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ defies this censored history and highlights the culture of Iran as it once was. The blend of East meeting West is the core focus of the show, meaning Turkish culture also features heavily, another Middle Eastern country that has been subject to Western influence.

The exhibition is a constant navigation between the oriental and occidental, with cultural contrasts present in almost every piece. On the preview night itself Vane’s gallery space was filled with Persian and Turkish melodies courtesy of the three DJs, which was a sharp contrast to the rush hour buses and the Pilgrim Street bustle continuing outside. These psychedelic tunes travelled throughout the gallery and created the strong sense of being elsewhere, a Middle Eastern bazaar or souk.

The exhibition is composed of a variety of materials which ranges from light boxes reminiscent of religious shrines, to vintage clothing sourced from Europe and America, to hand-painted shoes, photo montages, family albums, artistic mood-boards, vinyl records and magazines from the 1960s and 70s. The tactility and eclectic mixture of these objects heightens this sense of having entered a different and far flung Eastern world. Rich opulent jewellery drips from the bodices of various costumes and little market relics litter Afsoon’s studio-like mood-board piece, Wall of Memories. This process of collecting objects for display is a tendency inherent to Afsoon’s practice and these objects even take the form of everyday household matchboxes, which she transforms into beautiful art objects through her colourful collaging techniques. Afsoon enjoys the surprises she comes across in this process of collecting, with the vintage matchboxes she sources from markets containing all sorts of hidden and discarded secrets.

The element of surprise is present not only in the artistic process, but also in the curation of the exhibition itself, specifically in the inclusion of ‘non-art’ objects and ephemera. Even with an awareness of Iran’s pre-revolutionary westernised culture, it comes as something of a surprise to see the amount of eroticism present within the exhibition. A found 1960s postcard of a nude Iranian actress hangs proudly in its frame, and three of the gallery’s walls are littered with extravagant and sexualized vinyl covers of the 1960s-70s, many of which consist of revealing shots of the female body. There is beauty in this liberated stance, particularly given it is so distant from present day Iran. These record covers represent not only a past Iranian freedom of visual expression, but also a freedom of all kinds of expression, especially music. This is a vital component to the exhibition given Sara Makari-Aghdam’s discovery of her father’s cassette tape collection of Persian music all those years ago. This brought about nostalgia for an Iran that is now lost; an Iran where artists were free to express themselves. Yet ‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ takes this history and transforms components of the lost world into a colourful and bustling exhibition which is full of vibrancy and life.

Camilla Irvine-Fortescue is an artist and writer and at the time of writing is studying for a BA Hons Fine Art degree at Northumbria University.