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Kamran Diba, Diver (also known as Prodigal Waterman), 1967
oil on canvas, 80 3/4 x 34 1/4 inches (205.1 x 87.0 cm)
Grey Art Gallery, New York University Art Collection
Gift of Abby Weed Grey, G1975.86

In addition to serving as the founding director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and pursuing painting and installation art, Kamran Diba is an accomplished architect and urban planner. The English translation of the first line of the text at the bottom of the canvas reads, "I am a man [who] belongs underwater," and the second line poses a question: "Where is 'under water'?" The diver's belt is depicted as a series of upside-down numbers: 27145506138960. In the work's first exhibition as part of an installation at the Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran, an audiotape played alongside the painting. The entire installation was put together in Parviz Tanavoli's studio, and Bijan Dowlatshahi and Faramarz Pilaram, two other artists whose works are included in the NYU Art Collection, assisted Diba in preparing the work.1 Of the process, Dowlatshahi wrote, "He gave me a set of drawings of the figures, [which] I would put … on canvases and paint them.… [T]hen Pilaram wrote the [text on the painting].… [T]he theme of his work was about an underwater man … and we taped a dialogue which was played [continuously] at his opening show in 1967 at Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran."2 Diba wrote a dialogue that furthered the theme of "Ab-baz zebra-dast," which he translates as "the clever waterman." The male protagonist, voiced by Tanavoli, began the dialogue by saying, "I am an underwater man, where is under water?" The female protagonist's response followed: "I am the underwater woman, underwater is here.'" The tape, the painted diver, and the text on the canvas together create an environment that questions the viewer's position. The painted diver occupies the same physical space as the viewer. The text on the canvas and the speech of the male protagonist both end with a question. Their similarity suggests that the man on the tape could be the same person as the depicted diver, perhaps linking the painting to the sound that permeates the gallery space. In addition, the woman's response— 'underwater is here'—answers the question just posed by Tanavoli as well the question posed by the text in the painting. Thus Diba's Diver contains a complex network of referents in multiple media—painting, writing, sound—that ties into contemporaneous examinations of the relationship between text (in this case, both spoken and written varieties) and image.

1. Email message from Kamran Diba to Fereshteh Daftari, December 2, 2010.
2. Email message from Bijan Dowlatshahi to David Colosi, former Preparator, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, March 20, 2009.