Illusions in Iran: Surreal 3D Murals Transform Urban Tehran

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The blank concrete facades of urban Tehran offer an irresistible canvas for playful large-scale murals that seem to bend reality in unexpected ways. A city of 12 million people that has been politically and economically isolated by Western powers for decades, Iran’s capital isn’t exactly known for a sense of warmth and fun. But artist Mehdi Ghandyanloo is helping to change that, with the blessing of Tehran officials.

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Optical illusions make it look as if bicyclists are riding up the sides of buildings, children climbing sixth-story window frames, monstrous goldfish emerging from underwater structures in oversized aquariums. Some buildings appear to be folded like accordions, others playing host to all sorts of gravity-defying activities.

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Many of the murals have a decidedly Dali-esque feel. In ‘Life Cycle,’ ladders float within ocular cut-outs connecting one level of an open elliptical space to the other, while men walk along the ceiling against a bright blue sky.

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“The city is an architectural mishmash with buildings often having only one facade and the other three just left blank and grey. This doesn’t make for a beautiful city but it is a great environment for mural work. I think the municipality really felt the need to bring some cohesion or at least colour to the often confused and smog-smeared architectural face of the city.”

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Detailed views of dozens of these murals can be seen on the artist’s Behance page.