Antwerp gallery builds bridges between East and West


Pedrami is the only art gallery in the Benelux that specialises in contemporary artists from the Middle East and in locals whose work focuses on the region

From Iran with art

At a time when images of Western Asia are usually accompanied by harrowing headlines, the Pedrami Gallery – launched two years ago in Antwerp’s Het Eilandje district – offers a more nuanced approach.

“It’s true that there are a lot of ugly things happening,” says gallery founder Katyoun Pedrami, “but I really want to show that there are also good things going on there. There are a lot of great artists in the Middle East.”

From Iran, Pedrami (pictured) moved to Belgium 20 years ago with her then-husband, who worked in the diamond business. She went on to study fine art and jewellery design, but realised that she could achieve far more working on behalf of other artists than on her own practice.

“I have very good connections to Middle Eastern artists,” she explains. “It seemed only normal to try to bring them here. My gallery is the only specialist in contemporary Middle Eastern art in the Benelux.”

Shocked patrons

To date, the Pedrami Gallery has hosted seven dedicated exhibitions, featuring emerging and established names from across the Middle East. Past shows have taken in the renowned Iranian calligrapher Korosh Ghazimorad, the talented young sculptor and fabric artist Maryam Ashkanian and the Antwerp-based World Press Photo winner Mashid Mohadjerin.

“Three times now I’ve worked with Oussama Diab,” Pedrami adds. “He’s a very well-known Palestinian-Syrian artist who works with Ayyam, a top gallery in Dubai.”

Diab’s powerful neo-cubist works use black comedy to explore political conflicts like the war in Syria. “His work goes to Christie’s auctions, and he’s been interviewed by BBC and CNN.”

It takes time to build bridges, but it’s already going really well

- Katyoun Pedrami

Audience reaction to the gallery has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. “People don’t expect such top-quality art from the Middle East,” Pedrami says. “That came as a shock to me because I grew up there, so I know we have everything; but somehow people think, ‘Is it possible? It’s like European art!’”

Besides seeking out Middle Eastern artists, Pedrami also nurtures Westerners with an interest in the region, like the Belgo-German mixed-media artist Ulrike Bolenz. “She has been working on the subject of women and freedom for 25 years,” Pedrami says. “For her show, Smiling Woman, she made a series of artworks exploring the lives of Middle Eastern women, freedom and rights.”

The current exhibition, Good Soldier, traces Flemish painter Koen Broucke’s “mental journey” to the Middle East. “He couldn’t travel there because of the war,” explains Pedrami, “but he studied books and documentaries on the region and went there with his mind.”

Local collaborations

Broucke’s other work follows similar themes. Known for painting images reflecting the Second World War, Broucke’s process, Pedrami says, always requires him to embark on a similar mental journey, back in time.

Pedrami Gallery has already attracted the attention of top exhibition spaces and museums in the Middle East. “They look at what I’m up to and use that to discover European artists,” says Pedrami. “On the other hand, I bring the Middle Eastern artists here, so it’s like a little bridge between the Middle East and the Benelux.”

Local museums are also taking notice. “We are in talks with the MAS, and I also had a conversation with a curator from the Red Star Line museum,” says Pedrami. “They’re really interested in working on an exhibition together.”

This, she says, is a real coup not just for her gallery. “There’s a national scope to it as well. It takes time to build bridges, but it’s already going really well.”

Good Soldier: A Mental Journey to the Middle East, until 5 March, Verbindingsdok-Westkaai 10, Antwerp

Photo courtesy Pedrami Gallery/Facebook