Iranian Street Artists Icy and Sot on Their Way to Aerosol Warfare Gallery in Houston
Since the 2009 uprisings in Tehran, the Iranian creative community hasn't had the easiest time of it whenever it chooses to question its government. Whether they stay or leave, a small yet flourishing underground art culture has emerged globally.
Icy and Sot "Merry X-mas" Brooklyn, New York, 2012
Two of the most prominent figures in that movement are brothers Icy and Sot, skaters and street artists from the city of Tabriz, in northwestern Iran, specializing primarily in stencil artwork. On March 14, they and their work will be paying a visit to Houston at Aerosol Warfare Gallery - another stop on their East Middle West Tour of four U.S. cities. Fellow Iranian rabble-rousers the punk rock band The Yellow Dogs are part of the excursion.
We recently spoke with Icy and Sot in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Tell us about the East Middle West Tour.
Icy: It's something we have been planning with The Yellow Dogs for a few months now, so it's exciting to be finally living it -- taking our art to a broader audience and spreading awareness. We will be introducing new work and also site-specific installations in each city, with live sets from The Yellow Dogs at each opening-night event.
Sot: It will be eight guys traveling 8,000 miles in a small van, but it has been and will be worth it. There are so many people that we have met online and corresponded with, but until now we have not been able to meet them face to face. So that's been really special, and we can't wait to meet more of those people in Houston and Chicago, and to also make new friends and earn new fans.
Your artwork has been exhibited in galleries all over the globe, but it wasn't until last August, in New York City, that you were able to actually attend one of your own shows. What was that like?
Icy and Sot "The Old" Tabriz, Iran, 2011
Sot: That was our Made in Iran exhibit, and it was really amazing. We were so happy to be there...to see people react to our work and hear them comment on it. In the past, we could never attend our own exhibits outside of Iran because of how very difficult it is to receive a travel visa to leave the country...which is frustrating. Getting an artistic visa from America is so hard for us. We had to travel to Turkey twice, since there is no U.S. embassy in Iran. We were lucky, though. The person that interviewed us knew our work. He was a fan...so we were granted an emergency interview and were thankfully approved.
Icy: Which was really a relief for us, because we knew leaving Iran was the only way to take our art to the next level and to do so without fear of persecution.
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago...why Houston?
Sot: Houston was an easy choice for us. Not only is it a highly creative city, but the Aerosol Warfare Gallery is one of the top galleries for showcasing street artists. Gonzo247 and the entire crew there are street artists themselves, so they understand us and have done a great job creating a very special venue.
Icy: It also made sense because of its proximity to SXSW. The Yellow Dogs are performing there on March 15, so it worked out for all of us.
I'm sure a common question many have is: How do two brothers from Tabriz, Iran, become internationally acclaimed street artists?
Sot: It really came about because of skateboarding. There isn't much going on in Tabriz and I was the first guy that started skating there. I was an oddity. We were also into skating video games -- Tony Hawk -- and in those games, we would see street art and we knew immediately that that's what we wanted to do. So we started making small stickers and stencils and putting them up in our skate spots.
Icy: That was 2006 and it's been our profession since 2008.
So you owe it all to Tony Hawk?!?
Icy: In a way...yes (laughing). To some small extent, I guess you could say that.
Sot: Skating was our passion, and our profession, but once we started seeing these beautiful images in Tony's video game we knew that street art was going to become our long-term passion and profession together.
Do you only work together?
Icy: We do our own stuff, but prefer together. We've been together since the beginning.
Sot: We are friends more than brothers, so we like it. It's a special connection, and I think one that allows us to expand our creativity.
Icy: It's the ultimate in collaboration. Friends -- brothers -- co-creators.