Gallerist, curator, lecturer, and cultural influencer – Anahita Sadighi wears many hats. Born in 1988 in Tehran, Anahita grew up as a child of the Iranian diaspora in Berlin where she has established herself as a leading figure in the art scene of the city.
After graduating with an MA in Art and Architecture of the Islamic Middle East at SOAS, University of London, at the age of just 26 she opened her first gallery specialising in antique Asian and Near Eastern art, Anahita Arts of Asia in 2015 – an achievement which made her the youngest art dealer in Berlin at the time.
Just two years later in 2017 Anahita forayed into the contemporary art scene with the opening of a second gallery Anahita Contemporary, which she describes as a “unique combination of ancient and contemporary art in Berlin.”
“The focus is on creating an intercultural and interdisciplinary dialogue from artists of different generations,” Anahita tells The New Arab.
Anahita’s own Iranian heritage form the backbone of her work as an art practitioner.
“Dealing with Iranian art allows me to reflect on my own roots,” she says. Growing up in Germany, Anahita experienced what many diasporas and third culture kids experience, a longing for ‘home’.
“Through my focus on Iranian art I feel that I compensate for a certain longing and I have for home and the urge to internalise a culture which is driven by creativity in order and do it justice, as well as be inspired by it,” she goes on to say.
Through the exhibitions she curates in her galleries, Anahita wishes to show a different image of a country that is often misrepresented in the mainstream media.
Since the Islamic Republic was established in the late 70s, Iran’s image in the West is often negative and one dimensional, associated with political violence and the repression of human rights. In reality, life in the country is multi-faceted, and Iranian culture reaches far back before the 1970s as one of the oldest civilisations in the world.
“There are few countries as misunderstood as Iran, and with my work, I want to change this view,” explains Anahita.
This was an intention in her current exhibition S*HEROES at Anahita Contemporary. She went on a personal journey to her roots in order to shed light on the art of nomadic women from the region.
“Nomadic textile art was produced exclusively by women. As such the history of nomadic art is also a history of the strong feminine voice. Their rediscovery serves to strengthen the current women’s movement and acts as a visual representation and counterbalance against stereotypes of women from Near Eastern cultures,” says Anahita.
Throughout the years Anahita has worked with many trailblazing, emerging artists from the Middle East including Yumna Al-Arashi, a Yemeni-Egyptian-American photographer and filmmaker, who had her first solo show at Anahita Contemporary in 2020. Other names include Iranian photographer Tahmineh Monzavi and London-based artist Kalpesh Lathigra.
It’s safe to say that there is no lack of interest in Middle Eastern art and artists in the West, but Anahita points out that there is an imbalance in the supremacy of Western artists, curators, gallerists and museum directors.
For example, there are parallels between ancient crafts from the East and modern Western art that are not talked about much in the history of art narratives.
“Why is that? To maintain the supremacy of European artists,” says Anahita. “We have a strongly Eurocentric dominated art world.” It is safe to say that Anahita’s choice to highlight the work of Middle Eastern artists works to alleviate this imbalance, but it is her strong presence in the art world that also has a profound effect on the perception of Middle Eastern art and what the region has to offer in the way of visual arts.
Anahita’s career can only be described as successful and flourishing, however, things did not come easy for her and she faced her share of challenges and setbacks.
The lack of diversity in the Berlin art scene is one such challenge.
“The entrenched structures are very powerful, very white and dominated by men,” says Anahita. She finds it exhausting navigating this but says it acts as fuel to prove to herself and others that her place at the table is deserved.
“The art landscape needs to become more accessible to people from different cultures and backgrounds, many people are still prejudiced and think that contemporary art and antiquity are incompatible,” she says.
“But it is precisely this contradiction that drives my work. It’s why I do exhibitions like S*HEROES because I believe in a paradigm shift that will take place over the next few decades where women will play a leading role in the arts. I am convinced of that.”
Sahar Esfandiari is a British-Iranian writer focused on the Middle East and its diaspora
Follow her on Twitter: @saharesfandiari