British Columbia

Parviz Tanavoli's daughter says sculptor's passport seizure by Iran a mystery

The daughter of Canadian-Iranian sculptor Pardiz Tanavoli — whose passport was seized July 2 in Tehran — says her father is an Iranian treasure, not a troublemaker.

'He was told that his art disturbs the public peace and spreads lies,' says Tandis Tanavoli

Sculptor Parviz Tanavoli's sculptures, such as this one called 'The reclining nothing' in Farsi, are on display around the world. (Parviz Tanavoli/Facebook)

The daughter of Canadian-Iranian sculptor Pardiz Tanavoli — whose passport was seized July 2 in Tehran — says her father is an Iranian treasure, not a troublemaker.

Tandis Tanavoli says it's a mystery why her father was barred from leaving Iran and told his internationally-collected artwork was a problem.

Tanavoli is the second Canadian-Iranian intellectual targeted in the past few months in Iran. Professor Homa Hoodfar, 65, was arrested June 6 for unclear reasons her family suggested may be linked to "dabbling in feminism."

Some of Tanavoli's works did involve nudes but had never sparked controversy.

Tandis Tanavoli's father always texts her as he passes through airport security. (Tandis Tanavoli/Twitter)

He was raided by police in 2014 as part of an ongoing dispute over the ownership of his house that was slated to become a museum displaying his works.

Tanavoli said at the time he was not a political person, just "an artist."

No official reasons have been given for why his passport was seized earlier in July.

"He was told his art disturbs the public peace and spreads lies," said Tanavoli whose family is working with the Iranian government to unravel why the artist was stopped while travelling to the launch of his new book European Women in Persian Houses at London's British Museaum.

CBC questions about how many Canadian citizens are currently detained Iran  were not answered by Global Affairs Canada. Authorities refused to divulge the numbers citing privacy concerns.

Pardiz Tanavoli was recently featured in a documentary called 'Poetry in Bronze' screened in Palm Desert in May, featuring many of his larger works such as this one called the Heech Lovers. (Facebook)

"It's kind of a mystery ... I was worried he'd get arrested," said Tanavoli, who does not believe this has been done to a sculptor before, and certainly not to Iran's most famous living one.

The artist with dual citizenship has long been touted as an important Iranian cultural ambassador and described as one of the most prominent contemporary artists in the Middle East.

Tanavoli is considered a pioneer in the neo-traditionalist movement born in the 1960s, inspired by Persian and Shiite folk themes. One of his bronze sculptures sold for $2.84-million at Christie's Dubai in 2008.

His daughter is worried for his safety, and frustrated his artistry is being vilified. She said her father has written 40 books and lives to mentor the next generation of contemporary Iranian sculptors.

"He wants to leave a legacy of young sculptors," she said, describing Tanavoli's upcoming work as focused on the environment, and his fascination with now-extinct Persian lions.

Parviz Tanavoli's work is bold and challenging but has never gotten him arrested before. (Parviz Tanavoli/Facebook)

Tanavoli divides his time between West Vancouver and Tehran. Earlier in July, the 79-year-old was scheduled to speak at the British Museum, but when he attempted to board his flight to London at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport his passport was confiscated, leaving him unable to leave Iran.

Tandis said her father always texts her when he passes through the airline gate, so she became worried when a text never came.

Eventually she heard from him there was a problem and that his passport had been taken.

Parviz Tanavoli's sculptures are world-renowned and usually garner him praise, not police attention. (Parviz Tanavoli/Facebook)

"This morning I went to Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport to catch my flight to London. I was told I am not allowed to leave. My explanation to the authorities about my two lectures at the British Museum and the Asia House did not help and I missed my flight," Tanavoli posted on Facebook ,the day his passport was taken.

"Later in the morning, I went to the main passport office and spent the whole day there and asked every one for help, but it was of no use. However my daughter's calls to some of the art and culture authorities at the ministry and at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art brought them into the scene. I am deeply grateful to them — although I still don't know why I am here and when I will be able to leave." 

The Iranian Ministry of Culture is working with the family to get answers as to why Iranian police stopped the artist. No charges have been laid against Tanavoli, his daughter said, hoping his passport will be returned by next week.

So far the Tanavoli family have tread carefully, not involving the Canadian government, in the hope the matter will get cleared up by Iranian authorities.

"He's home now. He's working. His students are around him. He's mentoring and doing what he does best," she said, adding no matter what happens he will always return to Iran.

"He loves Iran."

Lions are a central motif in Parviz Tanavoli's work. (Steven Senne/AP)