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At the age of 13, his father and stepmother took Shafrazi to England and left him to study there. He first went to a vicarage in Bilston, then to boarding school and later Hammersmith College of Art & Building. He attended the Royal College of Art from 1963 to 1967 before coming to New York in 1969.
On February 28, 1974, Shafrazi spray-painted Picasso's painting Guernica, which hung in the Museum of Modern Art, with the words "KILL LIES ALL". The paint was easily removed as the painting was heavily varnished. It is believed that Shafrazi was protesting the announcement, the day before, of the release on bail of U.S. lieutenant William Calley. Calley, then under house arrest following his conviction, in 1971, for his part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, had petitioned for habeas corpus; he had initially been sentenced to life imprisonment. Although his appeal was overturned in June, he was finally released from U.S. Army custody later in the year after having received a limited pardon from Richard Nixon. Shafrazi was a member of the Art Workers' Coalition, which in 1970 had staged a protest at MoMA by unfurling a copy of the famous My Lai protest poster And babies in front of the Guernica painting, which itself depicts the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon innocent civilians.
In regard to his 1974 vandalism of the painting, he gave the following statement to Art in America in December 1980: "I wanted to bring the art absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life. Maybe that's why the Guernica action remains so difficult to deal with. I tried to trespass beyond that invisible barrier that no one is allowed to cross; I wanted to dwell within the act of the painting's creation, get involved with the making of the work, put my hand within it and by that act encourage the individual viewer to challenge it, deal with it and thus see it in its dynamic raw state as it was being made, not as a piece of history."
In an odd turn of events, only a few years later Shafrazi would be the art adviser to the Shah of Iran and Kamran Diba, then director of the Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art. Shafrazi went to about 15 of the top New York dealers at the time — including Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend, Paula Cooper, John Weber, and Irving Blum — and helped assemble a 20th-century art collection on the Shah's behalf within four years. As he did so his power expanded into the art market. In Tehran, he built a museum to house this collection. The museum Shafrazi had constructed epitomized the Shah's modern Iranian state, the collection was therefore essentially Western: from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Conceptual Art, including works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Willem de Kooning.
In 1978, Shafrazi opened his own commercial gallery in a small Tehran shopfront. The gallery was only open briefly, closing because of conditions in the country leading up to the 1979 Revolution. In 1979, he opened his first New York gallery, and within a few years he had made his reputation handling talents like Donald Baechler and then-hot graffiti artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf and also europeans artits like Brian Clark, Enzo Cucchi, Hervé Di Rosa and Jean-Charles Blais .In 1999, the Francis Bacon estate chose Shafrazi as its United States representative.