A large wall in the center of Watertown will get a bright new look when a local artist creates a mural inspired by his experience moving to his new hometown. The project will be the first public art for its creator since he emigrated from Iran.
Amir Tabatabaei will work on the mural that will go on the side of the CVS on Main Street in Watertown Square starting this spring. It will start where the gate opens onto Merchant’s Row, the alley off of Main Street, and unfolds along the wall.
The image he plans to create, called “I See a Dream,” was inspired by his vision of a utopia, and has elements of eastern and western architectural elements.
“I chose utopia because after I emigrated from Iran six years ago, my wife and I, this was happening in my life,” he said. “It was very important and greatly affected my artwork.”
The image will be an imaginary city, with different pieces representing his vision of utopia.
There will be a spaceship which is a sign of progress. A guardian angel on the right side of the piece is a sign of self-consciousness. A light serves as a sign of mind seeking truth.
“Also, lots of birds. One of them is a phoenix — the phoenix represents perpetual renewal, just as the utopian dream is constantly born anew in each consecutive generation,” Tabatabaei said.
In his artist’s statement, Tabatabaei said he has been influenced by the bird motifs, which symbolize love and awareness in the decorative arts of his home country of Iran.
“I hope at the end people will like the picture. I think it makes this area more attractive and will bring people to see this picture,” Tabatabaei said.
The design caught the eye of Watertown’s Public Arts & Culture Planner, Liz Helfer. While the mural will not be an official project of the City of Watertown, Helfer lent a hand in making the project a reality.
“Amir came to me and said, hey I’ve got this idea for a mural and this is the wall I had an eye on,” Helfer said.
The wall has an old mural on it that was painted about 30 years ago, but Hefer said it is very faded and it is time for it to be replaced. The next step was to get permission from the owner of the building. Helfer worked with John Hall at HallKeen Management to see if they would be amenable to the mural, and he gave the OK.
“I talked with both parties, with Amir and the building owner,” Helfer said. “It is a beautiful design that really encompasses a lot of the efforts the City has moving forward.”
The mural will help make Watertown Square more attractive, Helfer said, and makes it a more welcoming place.
“It does exactly that, really meshing together eastern and western architectural forms,” Helfer said. “And the messages and images of home and welcoming immigrants and cultures.”
She added that the project also dovetails with plans to reinvigorate the area, and with the effort to create a Cultural District in the Square and along Main Street. There are plans to make the area more of a gathering place by adding some benches and lighting.
The project is being privately funded, Helfer said, who added that there are opportunities for businesses or other groups to help fund the project.
While this will be Tabatabaei’s first public art project in the United States, he has plenty of experience with such projects.
“After I graduated from university in Iran I did so many public art projects,” he said. “One was 5,000 meters (long), which is comparable to 3.10 miles — very huge — (made) with broken tile. It is in Tehran in one of the most famous squares.”
When he was in Iran, Tabatabaei taught art for 20 years. Since moving to Watertown, he has taught some classes, and also had side gigs.
“During the last six years I was working, self-employed. I had a side job. I was working in some stores, and being an Uber driver,” Tabatabaei said.
He looks forward to his first opportunity to create public art in his new home. Work on the mural is expected to start in mid-May, and he may get help from other artists, possibly from local high schoolers.
“Fortunately, I have a chance after six years to make public art in the U.S., especially in Watertown,” Tabatabaei said. “I lived in Watertown after my immigration, and Watertown is kind of a life memory for me. We really love this place.”