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East Middle West // An Interview with ICY and SOT

Tabriz, Iran, 2012. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

When they’re not crashing at a Brooklyn warehouse among a collective of creatives they’re tearing across America in a van and trailer with a punk band (why don’t more visual artists do this?). Street art duo ICY and SOT, two young brothers from Iran, have been taking the underground art world by storm. In an onslaught of paint and paste and that old time punk rock and roll, these stencil artists have been touring the country with New York-via-Tehran band The Yellow Dogs, spreading art at every stop.

I met the brothers several months ago when they visited Chicago for the first time, and I corresponded with them when they hit the road again for their “East Middle West” tour. As a preview of their upcoming show at Co-Prosperity Sphere, below is our conversation about art, politics, their skate culture roots, life on the road, and more.

ICY and SOT’s exhibition at Co-Prosperity Sphere opens this Friday, March 22.

Istanbul, Turkey, 2012. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

Jenny Lam: How did the two of you first become interested in street art?

ICY and SOT: It started with our career in skateboarding. We used to make small stickers and stencils and put them up in our spots. Before that we did some stencils for punk bands. We didn’t know that what we were doing was called “stenciling,” and we even couldn’t imagine it was going to be our profession.

It was so adventurous and fun to put stencils up in Tabriz, where there wasn’t any kind of street art before. It was great to see the stencils were still up in the city. By passing time we got more interested in it, and we learned a lot by doing more and more. We had our first show in 2008 in House of Art in Tabriz, which they shut down the second day.

Manhattan, 2012. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

JL: As a “street art duo,” what is it like to work with another person—from creating pieces to putting them up on the streets—as opposed to by yourselves?

I+S: At the time we started it was great that we had each other. It helped a lot in everything from pushing and supporting each other to putting works up, which is totally faster.

JL: What themes do you like to explore in your street art?

I+S: Whatever influences us. It may be the things we have faced in our lives or the things that are happening to us and to society.

The Bronx, 2012. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

JL: How do you think the political climate of Iran affects its artists and the art they produce?

I+S: It affects a lot, since living in those conditions, [you have] fear of the government, stresses in [your] daily life, lack of freedom… It is really dangerous and scary to show that in your art.

JL: Do you think art—especially street art and other art in the public realm—can have a direct effect in bringing about social and political change?

I+S: Of course. Art is a powerful tool for bringing about social and political change, especially street art, which is uncensored and free to the public.

Brooklyn, 2012. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

JL: You’ve been touring the US with The Yellow Dogs. At each stop, you’re putting up site-specific installations, doing pop-up shows and parties, and spreading art. (When I first met you in January you put up pieces—both with and without permission!—all over the city, which is so awesome. I wanted to let you know that, after you left, people were noticing the pieces right away, taking photos, sharing them online, wondering who was behind them. So, well done!) The idea of going on an art tour is such a great one. Musicians tour all the time, but visual artists rarely do. What’s a typical day on tour like for you?

I+S: A typical day on the road is like spending 12 hours a day on the road, gas stations and diners, again and again and again, and when we get to a city where we have a show, everything goes crazy. We have to set up the works, do paintings and maybe install works, which sometimes we have to do all in the same day as opening day, and then pack everything, and then it’s the same story again.

Brooklyn, 2012. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

JL: How does all this traveling affect your creative process?

I+S: It’s been amazing. We are meeting great people, great artists in different parts of America and we have been learning a lot on this tour.

JL: What have been the highlights of your travels so far?

I+S: Seeing the different states is so amazing and exciting for us, especially with The Yellow Dogs. We are having so much fun.

Los Angeles, 2013. (Image courtesy of ICY and SOT.)

JL: What can we look forward to from you?

I+S: If you are looking for anything specific for Chicago, come and see our work at the gallery.


For more information about ICY and SOT, visit

Jenny Lam blogs at Artists on the Lam and tweets at @TheJennyLam.

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2 Responses to " East Middle West // An Interview with ICY and SOT "

  1. bruno says:

    Nice! An other beautiful site of street art, french one:

  2. You both are very talented. Your art path is exciting.
    I do a different kind of street art. I venerate the manhole covers, grates and water covers in my street art. “Grate Wishes!
    Bobbi Mastrangelo

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