Exhibition - Custodian of Vacancy: The Iranian Embassy in the USA by Eric Parnes at Ayyam Gallery

Eric Parnes, Empty Seat at Embassy Row, 2013

Eric Parnes, Empty Seat at Embassy Row, 2013

Custodian of Vacancy: The Iranian Embassy in the USA by Eric Parnes is a photography exhibition that opened on 16th December at Ayyam Gallery in DIFC

The exhibition includes a series of photos taken by Eric Parnes of the abandoned Iranian Embassy in Washington, DC. The building was officially closed in 1980 and still has a lot of the original furniture, chandeliers, photos and documents. 

I'm so glad we get to see a glimpse of the place through these photos. It's been a while where I've seen a series of photos that taught me something new, where I was fascinated by the subject. I strongly recommend you visit this exhibition and pick up the catalogue which has an intro written by Eric Parnes.  

Below is the exhibition write up, along with some of the photos from the series. I also recommend you listen to Eric Parnes talk about this series when he was recently interviewed by Andrew Hosie on Abu Dhabi Classic FM.

Silent and inaccessible, the Embassy of Iran in Washington, D.C. has been closed since the fall of the Shah and the US Embassy hostage crisis of 1979. In this unprecedented and unique opportunity, Eric Parnes ventures into the calm of this defunct institution, providing a rare glimpse into a world forgotten by history. Once a hub of American celebrity merged with, and immersed in, Persian culture, the Iranian Embassy's current uninhabited status still retains a particular rich aesthetic that captures the exclusive solitary nature of this institution.

Parnes’ photographs uniquely express a historic moment in time, while simultaneously conveying the immediacy in the artistic emotion of seclusion, by bringing the viewer to a magical space that was once celebrated and alive with vibrant festivities.


Eric Parnes, Last Dance, 2013

Though cushioned alongside the active homes of other standing diplomatic missions from countries on Embassy Row, the Iranian Embassy stands as a custodian of vacancy, having sat in forced solitude for the past 12,000 days. Yet crossing through the gates bearing the traditional Persian coat of arms emblem the Lion and Sun, the dust casts a layer of enchantment over this derelict residence. As if peering through a portal to another world, gilded mirrors and stained glass windows reflect a past in which expansive ballrooms echo the laughter and mingling of Hollywood celebrities, tycoons, socialites, diplomats, politicians and artists.


Eric Parnes, Hospitality, 2013

Decadent soirees held by then-Ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi were attended by the Shah and Shahbanu, her glittering tiara matched only by the brilliance of renowned beauties like Elizabeth Taylor. The glamour of Persia, its mysticism and exoticism was a rare world opened to the highest of American society in the 1970s, and just as quickly the doors were flung shut and forgotten.


Eric Parnes, Discarded Importance, 2013

This Embassy has become figment of the imagination. Its interiors reflecting traditional elements of Persian folklore and design lie unbeknownst to the majority of Americans who live in its vicinity, and a faded memory to those who attended its vast receptions only four decades ago. This dissolution from the American consciousness is evident and palpable in the resulting grain quality of Parnes’ images, which capture the haunting quality and eery silence of each abandoned room.

Eric Parnes, Memory, 2013

The majestic building of the Iranian Embassy stands today a living testament to what once was, a silent memorial that is neither recognised nor visited. Eric Parnes peers inside this rich by-gone culture and era as an outsider, an apt metaphor for an American-born Iranian reaching into his own dreams. 

To see what the Iranian Embassy looked like during its glory days, I urge you to look at this blogpost by The Polyglot. The Embassy hosted the glamourous and the glitterati, and looked like it was a place to see and be seen in. 


Exhibition details

Date: On till 30th January 2014, 10am-8pm Saturday to Thursday  

Venue: Ayyam Gallery, DIFC, Dubai (location map)

Free entry. 




[images via Ayyam Gallery