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Mehrdad Rahbar was born in Iran, moved to Canada in his teens. He studied Architecture at McGill University. and specialized in Community Development and Affordable Housing. He is the founder and principal of Vernacular Group, a design and land development company in BC. Rahbar is also the recipient of a number of BC’s design awards. With his company he has been involved in many affordable and innovative residential projects working with Canadian federal, provincial and local governments, and First Nations.

In addition, he is a celebrated artist who has installed two major public art sculptures. His most recent sculpture “When Women Rise” was installed at the UBC Campus in 2018. As a painter, his works have been exhibited in Canada and the United States.

Rahbar is also the Spokesperson for Phoenix Academy for Arts & Culture for Iran.

Lucca and Rebecca explore how Mehrdad thinks outside the box and calls for awakening!

First aired on November 8, 2019.

The Harp of Chogha Mish (4th Millennium B.C)

Excavations in the Elam plain were conducted for the first time by Professors Pinhas Delougaz and Helene J. Kantor from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago between 1962-63. Several ancient seals, dating back to the 4th millennium B.C., were discovered in the excavations, one of which, from Chogha Mish Hill located in Khuzestan, is a 6000-year-old evidence, depicting the most ancient orchestra of the world on its surface.

In his report on the findings in Chogha Mish and the seal, Delougaz writes:

This is the first document according to which human beings use music as an organized art. The impression depicts a group of instrumentalists that are actually the pioneers of modern orchestra. Behind a large harp in the picture, the profile of a kneeling musician could be observed while another one is shown playing a drum. The third player holds two horn-like objects that we, at first, thought to be castanets, but in another fragment we could clearly see that one of the ending parts of the horns touches the player’s mouth. Thus it is undoubtedly a wind instrument such as a horn. The fourth person places his hand on his cheek, quite similar to the singing gesture which is still practiced in the Middle East. Therefore, we have here an orchestra with musicians playing string, wind, and percussion instruments accompanying a singer. The seal depicts a feast with music, related to religious rituals.

Features of the reconstructed model

The component of the instrument:

  • 1. Black walnut wood for the sound box, turning pins and the column
  • 2. Bone, ebony wood and brass for decorations
  • 3. Goat skin for the soundboard
  • 4. Woven silk for the strings
  • 5. Furbishing varnish

Some other models of this harp have been also discovered in other civilizations:

  • 1. 2700 B.C –Mesopotamia, harp of Princess Shobad’s tomb
  • 2. 1900 B.C –  Egypt, harp of Pharaoh’s tomb

These models date back to later periods, and are posterior to this Persian harp, thus indicating the Persian origin of this harp.

Maker and player of the instrument: Seyfollah Shokri

  • Director: Hamed Ahmadi
  • Camera: Vahid Golriz
  • Edit: Farhad Najafi-Zadeh
  • Light: Omid Kyani
  • Produced in:  Studio Hamed
  • Produced by the order of: Parviz Shahcheraghi


When Women Rise Sculpture

On September 12, 2018, artist Mehrdad Rahbar unveiled his sculpture When Women Rise at Marine Drive Residence. This project, several years in the making, was made possible through a partnership between the UBC Class of 2013, UBC Alma Mater Society, and SHHS.

When Women Rise

The Lyre of Mesopotamia (A song from Persia/ Iranshahr)

The lyre of Mesopotamia is a reconstruction of the sample found by Sir Leonard Wooley from the Sumerian city of Ur which dates back to 4700 years ago. The lyre, whose vocal range is 5.1 octaves, is kept at the University of Pennsylvania. Two samples of this musical instrument have been reconstructed by Seyfolah Shokri.

The first one was ordered by the United Nations in 2009, and it was presented to the representatives of the United Nations at a ceremony. The second one – as you can see in this clip – was ordered by Parviz Shahcheraghi in 2014.

Reconstruction of the instrument: Seyfolah Shokri Composer and Player: Rabe Zand Director: Hamed Ahmadi Camera: Vahid Golriz Edit: Farhad Najafi-Fard Photographer: Niloufar Frahmand Assistant Cameraman: Omid Kyani and Hamid Najafi Produced in: Studio Beel Produced by the order of: Parviz Shahcheraghi

A(n art) piece for the world

Mehrad Rahbar has always been tuned in to events around him – the Iran revolution in 1979, the 1989 Montreal massacre of 14 female students and the Arab Spring that spread across the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011. He considers himself a human rights activist and is involved in various Iranian-Canadian organizations throughout the city and province.

Although he studied architecture, Rahbar says he has always been interested in painting and drawing. His work, which uses mainly acrylic and ink, is primarily composed of characters, backgrounds and symbolic gestures to represent locality – the human side, both abstract and surreal. The scriptures on his artwork are in both English and Persian.

“Everything in me exists in my painting. I basically belong to the world,” says Rahbar, 52.

The power of the third dimension

Rahbar envisioned a sculpture of women standing together, rising, and claiming equality and respect. After making a sketch, he decided his real-life sculpture would consist of five figures holding a globe, with materials including copper plates, stainless steel tubes and flat bars.

Rahbar says sculptures, a more 3-D art form, draw in a wider audience.


“Women’s rights are human rights. It’s not only affecting the woman and her family, but it’s my problem also,” says Rahbar.

As a male artist, he hopes to encourage more men to become interested in this movement.

Growing up in Iran, Rahbar says his father was respectful of women and very sensitive to women issues.

“This was unique in a male-dominated society [such as Iran],” he says.

Rahbar moved to Montreal in 1979 on a student visa, and earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Architecture from McGill University. He never moved back to his birth country, but relocated to Vancouver in 1996 to finish his Master’s thesis on affordable housing.

Rahbar then became a Canadian citizen, married an Italian-Canadian and had three children.

“Having a daughter changed my life quite a bit. I told her I’ll do whatever I can for women’s rights in the world,” says Rahbar.

Student-led initiative

Mike Silley, who has known Rahbar for 15 years, having attended the same school as his son, was first approached by Rahbar about the idea of a “universal sculpture” in 2008.

“We didn’t have the time or capability (at the time) to invest in such a project,” says Silley, 26, who has held a number of positions at UBC, including Alma Mater Society (AMS) Arts Representative, 2013 UBC Graduating Class Council President and member of the Board of Governors.

A few years later, in 2013, an opportunity came up for graduating students of 2013 to “leave a landmark gift for future generations,” so Silley reconnected with Rahbar.

For Silley, the project is important because of the timely subject matter that serves as a topic of discussion for both genders. Given the rates of alleged sexual assaults on UBC campus (circa late 2013), Silley says the sculpture can represent ‘gender equality as a whole.’

“The moment we start relaxing, the moment we forget what we’re fighting for, is the moment we stand to lose it,” says Silley.

After an extensive process of securing the permit to have the art in place, choosing the location itself and getting the labour for the project, the sculpture project has raised about $35,000 of the total $150,000 required. Much of the proceeds have been raised at fundraisers organized by Rahbar, Silley, university students from UBC, SFU, Emily Carr and Capilano University and the general public.

Both Rahbar and Silley say the placement of the sculpture on the UBC grounds is an amazing opportunity to educate people through art and encourage dialogue in a public space.

Rahbar says work can begin on the sculpture once the team has reached another $50,000. He is hopeful that will be in the summer of 2016.

“I can’t sleep at night. I can’t wait – I’m so excited about the project,” says Rahbar.

For more information please visit:

The Cinema of Diaspora

In collaboration with celebrated Iranian Director, Screenwriter, Actor, Parviz Sayyad

Publication Year: 2017

Published in: Canada