"Khor" (pronounced /xor/ or /kɔː/), is a regional term for Middle Eastern estuaries; a partially enclosed body of water formed as a result of an indentation of the sea into the land.

Founder of SARAI Gallery and the Khor Art Initiative annual art prize Hassan Saradipour - who comes from an ancient port known for its estuaries - had a particular reason behind this choice of title for the event: "Khor is a sensitive tidal area, you know. It has its own particular ecosystem. From this perspective, I think of Khor as a sort of metaphor for Middle Eastern, particularly Iranian, art in the sense that it represents a unique and vital creative identity while also always exchanging values and qualities with other cultures and heritages around the world."

Khor Art Initiative has been a supportive and competitive nationwide event. To revitalize the Iranian visual arts scene amid the COVID19 pandemic, the first Khor Art Initiative took place in the Summer of 2020, a year before the inauguration date originally determined by the organizers. Focusing on drawing and painting practices, the open call was announced in May. The event was held online with an exceptional international jury of collectors, curators, and artists, including Janet Rady, Kenny Schachter, Christian Viveros-Faune, Nancy Adajania, Karim Nasr, Sabine Moritz, Nicola Samori, Iva Gueorguieva, Katie Grinnan, and Gorka García Herrera. It resulted in discovering dozens of mostly young artists with works as visually and thematically vibrant and diverse as one could imagine and hope for. A total of 138 selected works by more than 50 emerging and established have been exhibited online on Artsy and our Gallery website. Graphic designer and cross-media artist Mahdieh Abolhasan (b. 1980) was announced the winner of Khor 2020.

For Khor Art Initiative 2021, drawing and painting continued to be the media of focus. Khor 2021 followed the same goals and vision that initially formed the base and driving force behind this initiative, with our team continuously adhering to the highest standards. However, based on the experiences gained from our first event and considering the changing conditions, several changes had to be applied to the process.

The entire Khor 2021 was also held online. The jury consisted of an esteemed mix of voices in the field of Middle Eastern art, including Roxane Zand, Anna Wallace-Thompson, Max Presneill, Murtaza Vali, Lila Nazemian, and Lee Ann Biddle

The open call saw a 40 percent increase in submissions from all corners of the country. What's more, nearly two-thirds of the applicants were women, primarily in their 20s and 30s.

The jurying took place in two steps. In the first stage, 30 young and talented artists were selected from a list of grades given individually by each jurist.

In the second stage, an online meeting was held during which all the jurors were present and collectively discussed and voted on 5 finalists to emerge from the initial list of 30. As the submissions turned out to exceed expectations, with nearly a dozen deemed noteworthy by the jury, the meeting resulted in a list of five finalists and four "Special Mentions".

Khor 2021 came to a close with the announcement of Ali Saeedi Kenari (b. 1971), a self-taught artist from the northern province of Mazandaran, as the winner of the Khor Art Initiative 2021. He has since been represented by SARAI Gallery. We have also continued our collaboration with some of the shortlisted artists - both collectively and individually - by organizing a two-part physical group exhibition with Khor artists during November and December 2021 and hosting solo shows by Shiva Noroozi and Shima Faridani among other projects[1].

While still in its infancy, Khor Art Initiative has already proven its potential as the quality event that Iranian and Middle Eastern rich, vibrant, but somehow overlooked art always needed to gain the international recognition it deserves; a bridge built from the core of Middle Eastern art toward audiences worldwide. Khor Art Initiative will continue to grow and evolve. Our vision for Khor is to achieve higher standards and to extend its open call to a wider variety of artistic media and vaster geography, from Iran's neighboring countries to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.