Kamran Diba is an architect, urban planner, and visual artist, as well as the founding director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Educated in the United States, he has executed projects in Iran, France, Spain, Dubai, and the United States. His transnational sensibility and strong background in both Iranian and Western art speak directly to international audiences. In Diver, he merges figural and abstract elements. Suspended in time and space, Diba’s blood-red diver plunges into watery blue depths, yet defies gravity. His palms are washed clean but he is denied complete purification. Using uniform brushstrokes of primary colors to delineate sharply defined, flat forms, Diba creates an impenetrable surface—while the scene’s total lack of perspective lends it a sense of unreality. No shadows are cast, no waters disturbed.
This surreal quality is underscored by the Persian inscription between the diver’s hands, which reads: “I am an underwater man, where is underwater? I am the underwater woman, underwater is here.” In this call-and-response dialogue—which was recorded and played back alongside Diba’s painting during the opening of his 1967 exhibition at the Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran—male and female counterparts expresses a desire for unification, a desire that is thwarted in this frozen image. Diba created the work in Parviz Tanavoli’s studio engaging Bijan Dowlatshahi, who was Tanavoli’s assistant at the time, as well as Faramarz Pilaram, who wrote the inscriptions, and Tanavoli, who voiced the diver in the audiotape that originally accompanied it.