Treasures from the Vault: Nicky Nodjoumi 

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Despite the limited art scene in Kermanshah, Iran where Nikzad (Nicky) Nodjoumi grew up, he excelled in calligraphy and drawing in his youth. His grandfather, great uncle, and cousin were accomplished artists and Nodjoumi studied with a local artist, emulating the works of Russian Socialist Realist painters before he received his bachelor’s degree from Tehran University in the 1960s. He traveled to the U.S. in 1969 to have surgery for a heart defect, a procedure unavailable in Iran, and to further his education. 

When he received his M.F.A. from City College of New York in 1974, minimalism and color field painting dominated the college campus. Instead, he looked to the work of Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns during these formative years. He began to question how art and politics are connected.  

Nodjoumi continues to live and work in Brooklyn. His career took off after his solo exhibition at Taymour Grahne Gallery and his inclusion in the exhibition Iran-Modern, at the Asia Society in New York, that focused on 30 years of art in Iran just prior to the 1979 Revolution. 

Considering Nodjoumi’s life experiences, it is no wonder that the artist’s work critically questions power relationships through wit and satire. His paintings are often populated by men in suits representing patriarchy and power, the source of which comes from newspapers and magazines. Nodjoumi’s disjointed figures and odd juxtapositions feel like a mix of fantasy and reality, as he describes, “The paintings are generally about people in power, it doesn’t matter what country. They are demagogues, they are hypocrites.”ii He sees how these situations are global, extending beyond specific geographical boundaries and national histories. 

 A donkey on strings is manipulated by an oversized hand superimposed on top of a man riding a horse against a white background.
Nicky Nodjoumi, American, b. Iran, 1942. Making of the Donkey. Lithograph on paper, 2018. Museum purchase, 2018.175. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 

In addition to paintings Nodjoumi works in large-scale ink drawings, which transition seamlessly into prints. He has collaborated on several prints with Landfall Press, including the lithograph (above) Making of the Donkey (2018). An oversized, truncated hand manipulates the strings of a donkey. The beast of burden is literally a hand puppet to an invisible person and reveals an interesting power dynamic. Nodjoumi renders the forms through elegant black washes of liquid tusche. He draws a regal hunter on horseback in a light gray ink. Inspiration probably came from traditional Persian miniatures like the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 16th century Mounted Hunter with Dog Pursuing Game Birds (below). 

A hunting scene showing a man on a horse with a dog at it's feet as they leap across the bank, pursuing a flock of birds that have taken flight.
Unknown, Iranian (attributed). Mounted Hunter with Dog Pursuing Game Birds. Ink and transparent watercolor on paper, 16th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain.  

The hunting scene is presented as a ghost image in contrast to the darker donkey and puppeteer, suggesting past and present time periods. Nodjoumi enjoys dualities in his work, stating that art gives him the freedom to present opposing sides.  

While he describes his works as political, they are rarely specific: “I find a situation and a composition that touches on the relations between people, objects and spaces; on their own embeddedness in power. I then try to approximate these relations in my works. These works explore the emotional dynamics of contemporary politics in absurd and humourous ways.”iii 

Nodjoumi’s work can be found internationally at the British Museum, the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is active on Instagram, using the platform to support today’s Woman Life Freedom movement in his home country. 

i “Art in Exile: From Tehran to Brooklyn,” Nation, PBS Newshour (13 October 2013),, accessed June 29, 2023. 

ii Alma Vescovi, “A Conversation with Nicky Nodjoumi,” The American Reader,, accessed July 3, 2023. 

iii ”Nicky Nodjoumi,”, accessed July 3, 2023. 

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