ICY and SOT's stencils first began to garner attention in the 2000s in the streets of Tabriz, a city in northern Iran. Since then the two brothers have been perfecting their mastery over this technique, while expanding their artistic practice to a wide range of other mediums: sculpture, installations, photography, performances… "We decided that whatever idea we had," say the artists, "we would make it happen in whatever medium or material that makes the work stronger."
It is therefore the idea, or more precisely the message, that guides the production of the artist duo. Since the stencils of their debut, the message—always political—plays a central role in their work. ICY & SOT produce an art that one may call, in the noblest sense, literal: an art that seeks, and finds, the shortest way to communicate.
The two brothers are indeed genuinely determined to speak out. In Iran, their work has led them to be apprehended and even detained several times by the police. The risks of severe punishments were real. Real, too, for the artists, the need to stand up against the authoritarianism of the Islamic Republic.
In 2012, ICY & SOT emigrated to the United States, where they found a safe haven that would allow them to grow and bring their artistic practice to maturity. They are now well-known figures on the international urban art scene. More than ever, they continue to be part of a long and rich tradition of political art. Among the issues that they typically address: war, gender inequalities, state brutality, damage induced by the market economy, the plight of refugees and the environmental crisis.
It is then a picture of our contemporary world that paints the Iranian duo, with all its flaws, breakdowns and tragedies. However ICY & SOT are never guilty of resignation or fatalism. Their work is beaming with hope and resilience. The destiny of these two artists is already in itself one reason not to despair of the world, for ICY & SOT demonstrate that talent and perseverance sometimes have the power to overcome the trials of life.
ICY (born in 1985) and SOT (born in 1991) grew up in Iran and now live in New York City. Artists of international renown, they have exhibited their work among other places at the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art in Munich, at the Saatchi Gallery in London, or at the Museum of Fine Arts in Calais, France.
“Icy & Sot’s distinctive and intricately woven hard-hitting lyrical manifestos resonate with all, especially in the minds, hearts and guts of our youth who are in a desperate battle to try and fix all things broken in this world.”
- John Fekner , American stencil art Pioneer
New York City-based artists Icy & Sot grew up in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Born in 1985 and 1991, the two brothers started to express themselves on the streets using stencils. Today their practice encompasses a wide range of techniques, including painting, sculpture and installations. For the very first time, their work will be presented in France, at Danysz Gallery, from February 1st. Titled Fences Faces, this exhibition will aim at showing the wealth and variety of their work.
For the sake of art, Icy and Sot have run high risks of facing repression by the Iranian regime. They have never ceased from the very beginning to direct their creativity toward dialogue, sowing wherever and whenever possible the seeds of hope and compassion in the name of freedom, truth, and social justice. After a first personal exhibition in the United States in 2012, they moved to New York and left their home-country definitively. They are now living in the Big Apple, America’s powerhouse of contemporary art, feeding on the energy of the city.
Icy and Sot always look for the appropriate medium to give their ideas the greatest resonance. Through their unique visual language, they have been delivering powerful, moving statements on the present-day human condition, tackling important issues such as human rights, detention, women's rights, the plights of migrants and refugees, climate change, or the pitfalls of capitalism. Their commitment is reflected in the materials that their artworks are made of: barbed wire, iron wire, old rusty shovels or oil cans. All raw materials that the artists divert and transfigure to give life to pieces of art that are full of poetry and fragility.
"We decided that whatever idea we had,
we would make it happen
in whatever medium or material
that makes the work stronger"
We try to give the audience the opportunity to imagine a better world. The impact that a piece can have on someone’s day may be small, but it’s still an impact. We believe that the role of the artist is to deliver hope, advocate for freedom and raise awareness about the issues that are happening in their time.
- Icy and Sot
Public art projects
ICY and SOT transcend their experience of artistic and political censorship by using public art to envision a world free from borders, war, and violence. “American Flag” is an American flag made of steel bars and fencing material. The materials evoke the physical barriers that immigrants face as they try to enter America, from fencing at the U.S.–Mexican border to cells in which some migrants and asylum-seekers are detained.
“Despite the harsh reality, “American Flag” also conveys America’s grace and beauty. The clean lines create a silhouette, allowing the sky in the background to come through to give a hopeful feeling. Having installed it once in Times Square was a perfect setting, as it is a symbol of the American dream. The location enhances the beauty of the work by incorporating the New York skyline as the backdrop.”
—ICY and SOT
“Fueled by their personal experiences as immigrants, ICY and SOT wanted to create work that will express their frustration about how rushed and insensitive decisions can tremendously affect an infinite number of innocent and often desperate people.”
EU flag / Lisbon, Portugal / 2020
“EU FLAG” permanent Public art intervention in Lisbon, portugal
This work presents a European flag made out of steel fence and barbed wire the materials evoke the physical barriers that migrantsface while trying to enter Europe and while they await with hope in refugee camps with inhuman conditions.
Despite the harsh reality it explores, the piece also tries to convey hope – the hope that the asylum seekers have. The lines create a silhouette allowing the sky in the background to come through in order to give a hopeful feeling. Its location in front of the river that runs into the ocean alludes to the sea voyage that many of them undertook and and are still undertaking in their search for a better life.
The work is on View at Praca Europa ( between cats do sore and Ribeira das Naus) in Lisbon. Portugal
Our house is on fire / slab city, CA / 2020
Iranian artists Icy and Sot recently took off on another self-initiated mission, inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg’s work and the worldwide environmental movement she has started. Using the vast Californian desert landscape as a dramatic backdrop for their work and activist’s impactful speech as an alarming wake-up call, Saman and Sasan Oskouei created a riveting video titled Our House is on Fire.
“I want you to panic. I want you to act as if your house was on fire.”
– Greta Thunberg
In some way turning Greta’s inspiring words into poetic reality, Icy and Sot built a frame of an archetypal home and set it on fire. Allowing for the untouched surrounding nature to be seen between the blazing framework of the house, the artists suggest looking at the wider picture in which the Earth is our only home. The video shows the reversed footage of their installation being swallowed by flames and crumbling to the ground, creating an illusion of burning pieces of wood rising up and forming the familiar structure. With Greta’s voice in the background calling upon civil disobedience and rebellion, the video has a compelling incentive undertone reminding us that the change is possible if we put pressure on those in power.
(click on the images to see the video of the project)
VIDEOVisit ICY & SOT's Brooklyn studio
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