Interview with Parviz Tanavoli

Interview with Parviz Tanavoli

One of the directors of Rasht 29 Club

Date: Summer 2016

Place: Caffè Artigiano-West Vancouver, BC

Interviewers: Elham Puriya Mehr (Curator) and Zohreh Waibel


It was around 1967 when Kamran Diba and I first decided to open up a cafe where artists could hang out. Our goal was to have a space for painters the way other organizations did. For this reason we rented a house (No. 29) on Rasht Street and after some renovation, opened the Rasht 29 Club.


To give the club a more cosy atmosphere, we went to Qazvin and bought some doors and windows from the old houses that were being torn down. Kamran also needed an office for his architectural firm so he took the upstairs floor. The middle floor was made into a club. Kamran started remodelling and renovating it.


We wanted to design it like the old coffee houses, so I would go to these businesses near Seyed Ismaeil and Shah Abdolazim (Rey), bought their tables and chairs, fixed them up a bit and had them ready for the club. To open up a club we needed to get a license. Kamran didn’t want it to be in his name and since I was not in a position to get it, being a University tutor and all, we asked if Ms Roxana Saba (Abolhasan Khan Saba’s daughter) would get it in her name. It was decided that we each get an equal 33% share of it. In order to initially prepare the club, Roxana sold her land in Sa’d-abad, Kamran; I secured loans and altogether we spent around 100,000 Tomans for the renovation and interior design.


The opening of Rasht Club was around the same time that the Shiraz Festival started. After the festival, many of the actors, artists and musicians would come to Tehran to perform and some ended up at the club. In this way, many important artists came to the club and we would throw parties for them. 


I had the idea to take artworks from visual artists like Abolghassem Saidi, Sohrab Sepehri, Bahman Mohasses, Hossein Zenderoudi, among many others, giving them food and drinks in return. I picked it up from my time in Milan. Near our academy three Christian sisters owned a cafe where they would exchange food for artworks from artists. So we tried the same thing at the club.

I had to be there every night. Some nights, Kamran, Keyvan Khosravani and I would have dinner together. Keyvan had rented the garage in our building and turned it into a men's boutique called Elegant 27. We never made any profit as we spent all the proceeds on the club and as we had no contracts, we never took any of the money we earned.


There was no place like it in all of Tehran or anywhere else. Of course, before us, there was Naderi Cafe, but it was usually a hangout for writers and Rasht was for artists, especially for painters as well as poets. We wanted to have artists from all backgrounds so sometimes we wouldn’t charge any money for food. People would come in the early evening, have their dinner at the club and then move on to their next destination. There was a Taar player who played roo-howzi music near Tajrish bridge and he would come and play one or two nights a week. We also had a peep show once a week. The hippies stopped in Tehran on their way to India and usually stayed at Amir Kabir Hotel. We invited them to come and play American folk songs in return for food and some money. 


We never had speeches but we did have poetry nights for progressive poets like Ismaiel Shahroudi, Yadollah Royayi and Parviz Eslampour. Eslampour would go up a ladder and recite his poetry. Our programs weren’t very formal, more like dinner discussions about art and culture.

Those same years, Kamran started to take on some big projects and was too busy to manage the place. After it stopped being used as a club we lent it to a couple of painters. For instance, when Hossein Zenderoudi came back from Paris we let him use it as his studio. Zenderoudi would come to Tehran for two to three months every year, have a few exhibitions and then go back to Paris.


On Thursdays we would put paintings on the sidewalk outside the club so that passersby might buy them. Besides paintings, we’d sell drawings, prints, zines and second hand books for cheap.


The first auction in Iranian history took place here as well. We took artworks from the artists who participated at the club and sold all of them. Keyvan Khosravani was the auctioneer. All the money from the auction was given to the artists—we kept nothing for ourselves. Rasht Club didn’t last very long, three years at most.