Introduction to Jalal AL-E Ahmad’s “To Mohassess, For the Wall”

“To Mohassess, For the Wall” is an article written in 1964 by Jalal Al-e Ahmad, one of the most influential and charismatic Iranian intellectuals of the time. Three years before writing this article, Al-e Ahmad had published Weststruckness, discussing the Iranians’ cultural alienation caused by the dependence on the west. In “To Mohassess, For the Wall”, Al-e Ahmad shifts his analysis to Iranian painting, arguing that Iranian painters during the 1960s merely repeat Western cultural processes and strategies instead of constructing Iranian ones. The context for Al-e Ahmad’s argument is the Pahlavi regime’s radical program of rapid modernization, which in the area of the arts was systematically expanded. Critical, provocative or problematic, the article offers a crucial window into the adoption of Western-style modernism by Iranian painters during the 1960s and into how an “insider” intellectual such as Al-e Ahmad evaluated the modernization of Iranian art before the background of what he perceived as the critical neglect of Iranian traditions. The text is addressed to Bahman Mohassess, a painter whom Al-e Ahmad considered to be one of the few who had not been coopted by the cultural policies of the Shah’s regime.