Thursday 16 November 2023, 08:00

The Iranian artist uniquely documenting FIFA World Cup history

  • Fatemeh Zarei is a football-loving Iranian artist

  • She has painted 300 portraits documenting the history of the FIFA World Cup

  • Team Melli fan has special memories of their FIFA World Cup ‘98 qualifiers

Is football an art form? Opinions on the question differ. All it takes is a ‘masterpiece;’ a goal out of nowhere, a supreme technical feat or an extraordinary team effort for the old debate to resurface. One thing however is certain: football inspires art.

The first records of artists using football in their work date back to the end of the 15th Century. At that time, the Chinese artist Du Jin depicted three women in a garden playing Cuju. Cuju was a very popular pastime in the second century BC, and the discipline is considered to be the most distant ancestor of football. Since Du Jin's work, football-inspired artworks have abounded, and FIFA World Cups have been particularly conducive to creation. In the recent past, Russia 2018 brought Paraguayan artist Lili Cantero to prominence as a painter of football boots. Qatar 2022, on the other hand brought an Iranian artist into the limelight. Her name: Fatemeh Zarei. Her art: painting on footballs.

"I have painted around 300 World Cup match themed portraits, as well as documented some of the highlights of each event," she explained. "Among the portraits painted are those of the best goalkeeper, best goal scorer, best player and the champions of each edition. I've also painted stars like Roberto Baggio and Ronaldo on some of the balls.”

The magnificent drawings adorning each ball are complemented by meticulously handwritten captions and detailed statistics: the record of key achievements, number of spectators, goals scored, and cities and stadiums where matches were played. In all, twenty-three balls retrace 92 years of history in colour and paint, from Uruguay 1930 to Qatar 2022. A work that is unique.

"As an artist, I'm particularly sensitive to the combination of colours. Every colour is beautiful to me," Fatemeh continued. "As for my favourite ball, it's the 2022 World Cup ball, Al Rihla. Both for its brushstrokes and its nuances of colour. It features portraits of the winning team, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani (Emir of Qatar), FIFA President Infantino and Argentina captain Lionel Messi.”

While Team Melli obviously holds a special place in Fatemeh Zarei's heart, the artist dreams of giving them a special place on the next ball as well.

"I have wonderful memories of the exploits of the Iranian team. My best memory goes back to the Asian play-off matches for the 1998 World Cup, when IR Iran played Australia," she recalls. "The second leg in Australia was so intense that I felt like I was in the stadium myself. I screamed when Khodadad Azizi scored the qualifying goal. That was 26 years ago, almost to the day.”

(20)26 of course is the year of the next FIFA World Cup to be co-hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States. For Team Melli, the qualifying campaign begins this week against Hong Kong. Fatemeh hopes they too, will be at the top of their game.

IR Iran