Travel

Iran's Former American Embassy Is Now a Museum of Anti-American Art

The Statue of Liberty as a skeleton, burning stars and stripes, and a Jewish guy with a really big nose are some of the more subtle images spreading over the building's multiple floors.

by Klaus Thymann
11 May 2015, 2:00pm

The former American embassy in Tehran.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

I was traveling through Iran recently, documenting glaciers as part of Project Pressure, a photographic initiative that aims to highlight climate change and inspire people to campaign against it. I had a couple of days off midway through, so I decided to knock about in Tehran.

The Iranian capital is a beautiful city with no shortage of sights. However, the one that stuck out for me was the former American Embassy, which has been disused since November of 1979, ever since revolutionary students occupied it, taking dozens of American staff hostage. The building is now a museum—or rather a testament to Iran's distaste for anything American and Jewish, full of propagandist and, at times, extremist art.

At the end of a hallway, for instance, sits a bronze statue of the mushroom cloud of a nuclear blast. Nuclear fission is actually a theme running throughout the museum; there's also a small painting of a scale, with the US and Israel's bombs on one side and Iran's tiny nuclear particle on the other end. Iran's particle outweighing the others, of course.

The most puzzling installation I came across was that of five life-size soldier heads impaled on a stick. It wasn't made clear to me how this gory piece was meant to be understood or whom it was depicting, but it made me feel uncomfortable.

Part of the stairway graffiti—UN balloons, a dog barking, and a guy with a bag over his head

The pièce de résistance was a mural on the stairway: the Statue of Liberty as a skeleton, burning stars and stripes, a Jewish guy with a really big nose, a plane crashing into a pair of skyscrapers, the American eagle, the Eye of Providence, a yoyo carrying the words "Bin Laden," and more unsubtle propagandist images spread out over multiple floors.

I walked up and down that staircase a few times, mesmerized and slightly confused by the lurid messaging. I tried to scan the piece for a signature but sadly there was none, and no one was able to tell me who the artist was. After a while, our guide said we had to move on, so I left the old embassy begrudgingly, feeling slightly disappointed that I wasn't able to find out any more about this anti-imperialist shrine.

What I know for certain is that if you ever happen to be in Tehran, do yourself a favor and check out the old American embassy. And then let me know who painted that big weird anti-Semitic, anti-imperialist mural.

Part of the stairway graffiti depicting an angry American pilot against a backdrop of bombs

Part of the stairway graffiti depicting television as America's propaganda machine

Part of the stairway graffiti—chains, the Statue of Liberty, and a guy smoking a hookah pipe

Part of the stairway graffiti—America crumbling and the word "Sadam" written on a yoyo

Barbed wire, rockets, the Statue of Liberty

An anti-American doormat

What the museum claims the US used to make fake documents

A swastika made of stars and stripes

An offensive drawing of a Jewish man

Iran's depiction of democracy

Another piece depicting Iran's view of democracy