Azra Aghighi, 49, was born in Qom and fell in love with the forms of her written language early on. She studied a traditional form of calligraphy at university and devoted herself full-time to her art once her children had grown. She finds working long hours at her canvasses therapeutic. While religion is a big inspiration, she says it’s not at the heart of her practice. She believes that the forms of her letters go beyond the meaning of the words. Photograph: Matteo Lonardi

João Inada is a documentary filmmaker and multimedia reporter based in New York. Originally from Brazil, he graduated with an MS from Columbia Journalism School in 2014. He was director of "Almost Tibetan", which was selected for the Asian American International Film Festival. João was part of the original team that won Reframe Iran's Magic Grant in 2014.

Matteo Lonardi is an Italian photographer, journalist and film-maker based in New York. Originally from Milan, he graduated with an MS from Columbia Journalism School in 2014 and until recently worked at La Stampa Newspaper in Milan. Matteo has been documenting artists around the world: Italy, Morocco, India and Iran. He is co founder of the multimedia project Reframe Iran which won a Magic Grant from The Brown Institute forMedia Innovation in 2014. His written, photographic and video work has appeared on international publications such as Creative Time,The Guardian, La Stampa, The Huffington Post and Il Corriere Della Sera and The Los Angeles Times.

John Albert is a musician and multimedia journalist based in New York. Originally from Seattle, he graduated with an MS from Columbia Journalism School in 2014. His stories have appeared online at The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Religion News Service. John was also editor of "TAKK", a coffee-table book on Nordic Cafe Culture.

Alexandra Glorioso is a multi-media reporter with a focus in data journalism based in Washington, D.C. Originally from Pittsburgh, she graduated with an MS from Columbia Journalism School in 2014. Previously, she was the assistant editor of and a reporter for South Brooklyn Post. in New York. Alex was part of the original team that won Reframe Iran's Magic Grant in 2014.

Matt Yu is a PhD candidate in the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford University. His primary research interests are computational photography, computer vision, and video streaming. Currently, he focuses on developing systems for generating, delivering, and rendering cinematic virtual reality content. Matt was part of the original team that won Reframe Iran's Magic Grant in 2014.

Reframe Iran

When we think of Iran, what do we see?

Reframe Iran is a cross platform documentary about Iranian artists in Iran and the diaspora. The documentary includes Virtual Reality, photography and video.

The project started as a vision of Matteo Lonardi, a photographer, who had been focusing on portraying different countries through artists perspectives: Morocco, India, Italy. At Columbia University he met with film director Joao Inada, Data Journalist Alexandra Glorioso and Stanford Engineer Matt Yu: Reframe Iran was born.

The virtual reality video takes users into the intimate studio spaces of Iranian artists in the diaspora. These immersive spaces offer an uncommon perspective into contemporary Iran, through the eyes of its displaced artists. We meet modern masters who fled the country in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution, their lives and art inextricable from the traumas of revolution, war, and exile. We also meet contemporary artists born after the revolution, whose work seeks to move beyond an Iranian identity by exploring themes of globalization and economic injustice . Once inside, viewers are challenged to reframe their perceptions of Iran through the eyes of the artist.

The HD documentary begins in Tehran. Behind the facade of revolutionary symbols and “Death to America” slogans, we discover the work and aspirations of three young emerging artists. These artists – Hani Najm, Shahrzad Malekian, and Negar Jahanbaksch – are an eclectic mix that share one thing in common. They are all finalists for the Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize. The competition, held in London, offers a huge opportunity for our artists: the chance to share their work with the West. Art is their passport out of Iran – and into the international marketplace. But the route to London is ridden with obstacles and unforeseen consequences. On this journey, we are forced to ask ourselves: Are these three Iranians elevated because they are exceptional artists, or because they titillate the Western imagination? Are they masters of their own fates,or pawns in a political game?

Reframe" class="redactor-linkify-object">">Reframe Iran Trailer from John" class="redactor-linkify-object">">John Albert on Vimeo.

Reframe Iran is also a series of portraits of Iranian artists in Iran and the Diaspora. The project features artists living in Tehran, Rome, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York.

Hamed Rashtian, 31, has worked as a sculptor for a decade using a variety of materials from bronze to fiberglass. He has now turned to combining traditional Persian iconography with elements of contemporary and pop culture. He says he is also fascinated by kitsch, which has become a trend in Tehran among artists and collectors. Photograph: Matteo Lonardi

Houman Mortazavi’s studio was covered with strange sculptures and masks. The tools he uses to carve these fascinating objects were laid out on a desk next to an array of dismembered head casts and other objects. The 51-year-old said it was a deliberate choice to make art that had virtually no chance of getting exhibited or being sold. Photograph: Matteo Lonard

The studio of Bita Fayyazi, 53, is set in smoggy south Tehran, far from the affluence of the capital in the northern reaches. Her art is complex and theatrical, achieved by working with a range of material and people. From those interactions she draws her inspiration. For a recent project, she had a group of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds decorate the interior of a house. Photograph: Matteo Lonardi

Videos, written work and photo essays from the project have been featured on The Guardian:

The project was funded by The Brown Institute for Media Innovation and is now supported by CULTURUNNERS.

Artist HD Documentary Credits

Director: Matteo Lonardi
Story by: Alexandra Glorioso
Producers: John Albert, João Inada, Alexandra Glorioso

Art-Market HD Documentary Credits

Director: Alexandra Glorioso
Producers: John Albert, João Inada, Matteo Lonardi
Edited by: Nectarios Leonidas
Musical Score by: Maggie Brown
Music Production by: Paul Matthew Moore
Associate Producer: Matt Yu

Virtual-Reality Documentary Credits

Director: João Inada
Story by: Matteo Lonardi
Producers: Alexandra Glorioso, Matteo Lonardi
Engineer: Matt Yu
Edited by: João Inada
Written by: Alexandra Glorioso
Musical Score by: Maggie Brown
Music Production by: Paul Matthew Moore
Associate Producer: John Albert
Executive Producer: Marc Smolowitz
Consulting Producer: Lisa Cohen
Consulting Editor: Will Huntsberry
Production Intern: Maya Shen
Production Intern: Miranda Fayne

Live Feed from Culturunners