‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is a unique presentation of art inspired by the popular music of pre-revolutionary Iran and Anatolia. Curated by Sara Makari-Aghdam, a young North East England based curator of Azeri-Turk, Persian and English descent, the exhibition makes a clear connection between 1960s and 1970s Iranian culture and contemporary visual art from the Iranian diaspora.

One of Makari-Aghdam’s earliest memories of connecting to her father’s background was discovering his Persian pop cassette tape collection from his youth. Her father left Iran in 1974, five years before the Islamic revolution, to study engineering in the North East of England. For many diaspora migrants these records and tapes represent what life in Iran used to be, a time when modern musicians and artists were freely allowed to express themselves. Today Persian and Turkish pop records of this era, though scarce, have become highly collectable and an inspiration for many artists, as can be seen in the work of the five artists in the exhibition.

Western influence in Iran began to take hold in the Safavid era (1501-1722) but it wasn’t until the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-79) that the age-old struggle between tradition and modernity reached boiling point. After the Iranian Revolution, modern music was labelled by the new authorities as ‘Gharbzadegi’ meaning ‘Westoxification’ or ‘Occidentosis’, a term coined by writer, social and political critic Jalal-e-Ahmad. ‘Gharbzadegi’ was used to refer to the loss of authentic identity in the region through the acceptance of Western influence. Iran’s record labels such as the legendary ‘Ahang e Rooz’ (meaning ‘today’s song’ in Persian) were closed, cassette tapes and records were forbidden and Iran’s incredible collection of modern art was buried underground in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

A shift from Islamic artistic traditions under the Ottoman Empire to a more secular, Western direction has taken place in Turkey, which has been an associate member of the European Union since 1963. Anatolian rock music has not been subject to the same extreme censorship as modern Iranian music.

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ includes three Iranian artists who lived through the 1979 revolution, as well two artists from the younger generation of the Iranian diaspora. The voices of these artists represent the unspoken songs of an era; reviving the ghosts of a hidden past. Alongside the voices of the artists, Makari-Aghdam’s personal narrative explores what it means to be of dual parentage (Iranian and English) born within the environment of the industrial North East of England. Family photographs help preserve memories as well as often being the only link between past generations and the present one.

Afsoon’s ‘Fairytale Icons’ photomontages include images of iconic figures from both European and Middle Eastern culture. The artist’s nomadic life is reflected in her work, where East merges with West and the result is at once familiar and foreign, linking the themes of nostalgia and cultural hybridity, rich, yet often playful and humorous. Afsoon was born in Iran and moved to San Francisco, USA, in her late teens. She currently lives in London.

Khosrow Hassanzadeh combines pop art and over-the-top kitsch. His light boxes are reminiscent of religious shrines or reliquaries. They perform not only as objects of devotion or worship, but also as poignant symbols of a lost past. Khosrow Hassanzadeh was born and currently lives in Tehran, Iran, where he works as an actor and visual artist.

Hushidar Mortezaie has made a hand-painted gown for the exhibition. The inspiration for his work ranges from the indigenous, nomadic, tribal peoples of Iran and Turkey, to the popular culture of the 1950s-70s, epitomized by the Iranian singer and actress, Googoosh, through to the post-revolutionary culture of the country today. Hushidar Mortezaie was born in Tehran, Iran, and works as an artist and designer in Los Angeles, USA.

Malekeh Nayiny uses photography as a kind of ‘time machine’. Nayiny photographs demolition sites, digitally combining them with billboard advertisements, magazine covers, and mass-media images from before the Iranian Revolution. She also constructs collages from old family portraits that are digitally manipulated to accentuate a sense of fracture and temporal distance. Malekeh Nayiny was born in Tehran, Iran, and lives in Paris, France.

Taravat Talepasand trained in the challenging discipline of Persian miniature painting in Esfahan, Iran. Her egg tempera paintings and works on paper focus on the idea of ‘acceptable’ beauty and its relationship with art history under the guise of traditional Persian painting. She paints a present intrinsically linked to the past, easily understood by Iranians and intriguing for Westerners. Taravat Talepasand was born of Iranian parents in Eugene, USA, and lives in San Francisco, USA.

Sara Makari-Aghdam was born in Stockton-on-Tees. She studied BA (hons) in History of Modern Art, Design and Film at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne (2004-07) and Masters in Curating Contemporary Design at Kingston University and the Design Museum, London (2011). While studying for her Masters, Makari-Aghdam was chosen to assist the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Curator of Contemporary Arab Art and Design, Salma Tuqan, on the Jameel Prize, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition.

In addition to the artists’ work, there is a display of record covers and related memorabilia, including 1960s and 1970s vintage fashion and magazines.

‘Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ is supported by Arts Council England through Grants for the arts, Iran Heritage Foundation, the Art Fund, mima Strategic Development Fund, and the Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland.

Read Camilla Irvine-Fortescue’s essay, Cultural Fusion

'Vinyl Icons: Persian Pop and Turkish Psychedelia’ features in BBC Culture