On a wall in Boston, artist Mehdi Ghadyanloo is taking a quiet but historic step forward in U.S.-Iranian relations.
His fanciful mural on an air intake structure in Boston’s Dewey Square represents a first. Ghadyanloo, who has completed more than a hundred surrealistic murals in downtown Tehran, is the first Iranian artist to do work commissioned by municipal authorities in both Iran and the United States.
This exercise in mural diplomacy couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Iran is back in the news after Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential elections. The president-elect has promised, at the very least, to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran. The Republican-controlled Congress wants to impose new sanctions.
Quietly, however, the Obama administration has moved to build on the rapprochement initiated by the 2015 nuclear deal. In September, the Obama administration greenlighted a Boeing deal to sell commercial jets to Tehran. The Treasury Department also loosened the sanctions regulations to make it possible for foreigners to use dollars in transactions with Iran. And the administration wants to encourage more U.S. firms to do business in the country.
Still, Iran has complained that the United States has not done all that it promised to usher the country back into the global economy. And European allies, eager to push forward with a broader agenda of engagement with the country, have been dismayed at how Washington has focused its cooperation so narrowly on nuclear matters.
That’s what makes Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s recent U.S. tour so noteworthy. He knows nothing about nuclear weapons. His work isn’t political. But precisely because his utopian landscapes are so far from the worlds of nonproliferation and geopolitics, Ghadyanloo’s work opens up a window on what could be: a true detente in the relationship between Tehran and Washington akin to the sea change in U.S.-China relations in the 1970s. Just substitute murals for ping-pong.