Thursday, 21 July 2016

On Metamorphosis and Transformation: The Blind Owl Meets the Hunger Artist

A creative playground by Aphrodite Désirée Navab

From the series: The Blind Owl Meets the Hunger Artist. Courtesy Studio 26 Gallery.
by Anna Savoy, NY Arts Magazine

East Village’s popular Studio 26 Gallery which is located in the Eastvillager building on East 3rd St. between Avenues A and B, hosted an interesting artistic exploration by Aphrodite Désirée Navab–an ink drawing series, When Madness Meets Hunger, curated by Marika Maiorova. This conceptual project represents an imaginary encounter between the protagonist of Iranian writer Sadeq Hedayat’s novella, The Blind Owl, and the protagonist of Czech writer Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Hunger Artist,” integrated by Navab.

Aphrodite Désirée Navab invited the audience to examine the similarities and differences that she found between all three artists and writers in the room, herself included. In answer to a question from the audience: “What if Kafka and Hedayat were alive and here in this room right now?” Navab answered, “I hope that they would not be horrified by my elementary level dialogue.” An artist and a writer herself, Navab’s response was both humble and modest. Her artistic work is anything but elementary—rather, quite sophisticated and eloquent. She earned her doctorate in Art Education at Columbia University in 2004 and received her BA magna cum laude in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard College in 1993. “This work comes from the place of incredible admiration,” Navab confides, something palpable to her audience.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The life and career of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami


by David Walsh, WSWS

Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami died in Paris on July 4 from gastrointestinal cancer. He had traveled to France in June for medical treatment. There have been questions raised in some quarters about the treatment he received in Iran. His death has sparked expressions of genuine sorrow from many figures in the film world.

Kiarostami directed a number of striking short films and features before the Iranian revolution of 1979, but he will be best remembered and long honored for the series of feature films, including documentaries, that he made between 1987 and 1997: Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), Homework (1989), Close-Up (1990), Life, And Nothing More … (1992), Through the Olive Trees (1994) and Taste of Cherry (1997). He was perhaps the most important filmmaker in the world during those years.

At a time of general intellectual renunciationism and movement to the right within global “left” artistic circles, Kiarostami was one of the few filmmakers who maintained a concern for the problems of the young, the poor and the oppressed and, moreover, addressed those problems in an artistically fresh and innovative fashion. He was a member of a significant trend in Iranian cinema, inspired by the mass revolutionary potential of the 1979 events.

Born in 1940 in Tehran, Kiarostami won a painting competition at the age of 18 and left home to attend Tehran University's Faculty of Fine Arts, a program he eventually failed. He passed at another art school and became a commercial artist. During the early and mid-1960s, Kiarostami made more than 150 television advertisements. In 1969, he helped set up a filmmaking department at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanun), an organization founded by the Shah's wife. Although Kiarostami never spoke of it, his various artistic and intellectual endeavors would have brought him into contact in Tehran with left-wing figures, past and present.

Friday, 3 June 2016

'Islamic' Chair Cover Gets Iranian Activist In Trouble


Shai Sadr sits on the "Islamic" couch with a wine glass. Courtesy RFE/RL.

by Golnaz EsfandiariPersian LettersRFE/RL

A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer and women's rights activist has created a controversy by posting a picture on social media that shows her sitting on a chair with Islamic motifs while holding a glass of wine.

The chair in the photo of Shadi Sadr is covered with a material used in Iran for events marking the Ashura, the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It is a work by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar, whose parents were among intellectuals and political activists killed in the late 1990s by Intelligence Ministry agents.

Hard-line conservative Iranian media, including state-controlled television and the Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), accused Sadr of insulting Islamic sanctities and disrespecting Islamic values.

Sadr, one of many activists and intellectuals who had to flee Iran to escape imprisonment in a crackdown after the 2009 presidential elections, told RFE/RL that the photo was not insulting and that she posted the photo to highlight the plight of nonbelievers in Iran.

"Shadi Sadr, the fugitive feminist and a so-called journalist who supports women's rights, has entered her pro-Western orientation into a new phase: insulting values and the holiest of the holy symbols of the Iranian nation; the symbol of the mourning for [Imam Hossein]," a state television report said.

Fars called Sadr's picture "an excuse to insult religious sanctity," while accusing her of questioning Islamic principles for years.

The news agency posted a statement by "a group of professors and law experts" calling for Sadr's extradition, trial, and punishment over what it said was her "antireligious" move.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

In Iran, an Actress, a Bared Arm and a ‘Woman Power’ Tattoo

A photograph of the actress Taraneh Alidoosti at a news conference in Tehran on Monday suggests that she has a tattoo of the symbol for women’s power. Credit Sadegh Chenari.  Courtesy NY Times.
by Thomas ErdbrinkNew York Times

A popular Iranian actress whose latest movie won two awards at the recent Cannes Film Festival threw her native country into an uproar on Tuesday after images emerged suggesting that she had a feminist tattoo on her arm.

At a news conference on Monday celebrating the return of the cast of the movie, “The Salesman,” to Tehran, cameras captured what appeared to be a tattoo of the “woman power” symbol of a raised fist sticking out from under the sleeve of the lead actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, 32, known by some as the Natalie Portman of Iran.

On Iran’s vibrant social media scene, hard-liners were quick to criticize Ms. Alidoosti, who is married and has a daughter, saying the symbol meant she supported abortion rights and was against the family.

Her many fans came to her defense on Twitter. “Now that I think about it, I have been feminist from the very beginning,” wrote one woman. Other Twitter users were less flattering. “You are advertising foreigners,” said one.

Ms. Alidoosti and her fellow actors had been in Cannes, France, to promote “The Salesman,” the latest movie by Asghar Farhadi, an Oscar-winning Iranian director. During the festival in May, Mr. Farhadi won an award for best screenplay, and Ms. Alidoosti’s co-star, Shahab Hosseini, was given the award for best actor.

For most of the day Tuesday, social media outlets were captivated by two questions: whether Ms. Alidoosti had such a tattoo, and whether it meant that she was a feminist.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Asghar Farhadi in Cannes: ‘Terrorists feel they have good reason to be violent'

The Oscar-winner has said he is embarrassed by the insulting mistreatment of intellectuals in Iran, and described how his new film shows how deep-seated traditionalism can turn progressive people to extreme violence
‘Terrorists feel they have good reason to be violent’ … Asghar Farhadi in Cannes. Photograph: Laurent Emmanuel/AFP/Getty Images. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Catherine ShoardThe Guardian

Asghar Farhadi, who became the first Iranian to win an Oscar, with 2011’s A Separation, has spoken out about his country’s treatment of those who could criticise the government through their art.

Speaking in Cannes after the first screenings of A Salesman, in which a teacher and actor tries to track down the man who has assaulted his wife, Farhadi said: “Intellectuals have been so insulted and mistreated in my country. It embarrasses me no end. I’m very proud of [Abbas] Kiarostami and our poets and writers,” he continued, emphasising their resilience in the face of potential censorship and maltreatment. “They’re not bogged down in any way, that’s erroneous propaganda.”

The film shows the gradual escalating of the anger felt by Emad (Shahab Hosseini) after his wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), is attacked while showering by a man who may have been a client of the prostitute who previously rented their flat. Farhadi said he was interested in exploring what people felt to be proportionate vengeance.

“I’m not talking about uncontrolled violence, but pre-meditated. Sometimes you are convinced that a violent act you are going to do is justified,” he said. “Like terrorists; they feel they have good reason to be violent. Sometimes you can believe you are entitled to be violent and build up a whole body of reasons which lead up to the act. A responsible and kind man can turn into a potentially violent being.”

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Phobophobia – A Reflection

by Dr Aida Foroutan

If you have seen any of Hamed Sahihi’s previous works, then seeing this exhibition of videos and framed drawings might feel like you are having a déjà vu experience, or recognising an old friend again after a long time. Phobophobia is a new work in a new season, but it is also a continuation of Sahihi’s previous work, and to some extent it is a key to understanding what he was expressing in his previous works. As always, this artist is playful, and thought-provoking, menacing and safe, all at the same time. Hamed Sahihi has entitled this new series as a manifesto to his fears, and to all our fear. The structure of the work is simplicity itself. There are 15 frame boxes, each with a screen displaying a short video; each lasts just a minute or so, but within that minute the sequence loops on itself every 6-10 seconds. Fears repeat themselves and are in essence simple, and each video is an instance of a type of fear. Also, in antique frames the artist has picked up somewhere, there is a series of drawings, on which the videos are based, individually labelled in Persian and English, with the Greek name of the particular phobia referred to in the drawing, and a comment, for example:

‘Metathesiophobia: Change: I fear the change of things I am used to.’

But it is not just a collection of ‘fears’ in sequence – it is a presentation that has a hidden depth, with many layers to it: it confronts the viewer with fears and simultaneously challenges the idea of fear itself by turning it back on itself. ‘Phobophobia’ means ‘Fear of Fear’. In the first place, by giving classical Greek names to his personal fears he objectifies them and shows them for what they are, namely universals, which everyone can suffer from. By putting them into boxes he contains them, and perhaps even tames them. To take two examples of videos, randomly chosen (4, 7):

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

How Persian shadow theater is bringing an Iranian epic to life

Inspired by German animation and an American puppeteer, Hamid Rahmanian has turned an ancient Iranian epic into a live show. Credit: Cristoforo Magliozzi. Courtesy PRI.
by Daniel A. GrossPRI

One day last summer, Hamid Rahmanian was in his graphic design studio in New York, thinking about how to adapt a classic Persian story to the stage. Shahnameh, or “The Book of Kings,” is one of the world's longest epic poems. Rahmanian, who grew up in the Iranian capital of Tehran, had already adapted it into an intricate illustrated book. Now he wanted audiences to see it live.

“In my studio, I had a projector,” says Rahmanian. He turned it on and walked around, watching his shadow dance across the screen. He suddenly thought to himself: “This is it!” Rahmanian was already interested in shadow puppetry — and in that moment, he realized he could retell an ancient story with the modern twist of colorful, computer-designed backgrounds.

“I have a graphic design and a filmmaking background — and they can meet behind the screen, in the form of shadows,” Rahmanian remembers thinking.

With help from a team of actors and animators, including the puppeteer Larry Reed, Rahmanian ultimately designed 156 shadow puppets and 138 backgrounds. Now the show, which he calls “Feathers of Fire,” is on a tour of the United States. It's been performed in Brooklyn, Boston, and San Francisco. The next stop, on May 15, is New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art; two weeks after that, it will go up in the Freud Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

In from the cold: Iran x Cuba – review

Playful seriousness abounds in this exhibition at New York’s Rogue Space gallery
Old furniture, recycled clothes, found objects, fiber stuffing (machine and hand-stitched), 222x116x118 cm. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and  the Guardian.
by Dan Geist for Tehran BureauThe Guardian

Holy Cow. The title of Allahyar Najafi’s painting captures the playful seriousness that abounds in IRAN X CUBA: Beyond the Headline. The show features work by 19 artists from two countries whose revolutions denied them the tender affections of a certain global hegemon for decades on end; now, as if love might actually trump hate in time, they have come together at New York’s Rogue Space gallery.

In Najafi’s piece, the titular bovine, sacred not only in Hinduism – the artist resided in India for several years – but in Iran’s own Zoroastrianism, weeps amid an array of other hallowed beasts. Through the ether swim a pod of Caspian seals, seemingly a personal totem for the artist, who now lives in Rasht, not far from the sea (one takes center stage in Pusa Caspica, after the animal’s Latin name). From a crook in the cow’s form stares a bald eagle, once-secular American iconography now as sanctified as the almighty dollar.

Like the two other paintings by Najafi on view, it’s a menagerie of both subject and media – thick oils encompass a flock of lenticular images, the multilayered graphics that appear to shift along with one’s viewing angle; the primary visual effect Najafi employs is stereoscopic (“two and a half dimensional,” in his nice description). Some lenticulars, of small human faces and abstract forms, peek out from the plastic sheet below the paint, while others may have been added later. There is much for the mind to play with in this work, both in meaning and in process.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Iranian Theatre remade for Australia

 'Vis And Ramin' is an ancient Persian tale of love, rebellion and political revolution remade for the modern theatre. Courtesy ABC Radio National

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Presented by Michael Cathcart and Sarah KanowskiABC Radio National

Nasim Khosrav began her career staging clandestine feminist street theatre on the streets of Tehran.

She migrated to Australia in 2009 and has formed a theatre company with a group of fellow Iranian-Australians.

Their first production, Vis and Ramin, re-imagines an ancient Persian tale of forbidden love and political rebellion.

Vis and Ramin is on at Metro Arts in Brisbane from 10 to 14 May.

Guests
Nasim Khosravi: Director of Vis and Ramin; Artistic Director of Baran Theatre Company.
Roja Gholamhoseini: Actor

Interviewer 
Sarah Kanowski

Via Books and ArtsABC Radio National

Saturday, 7 May 2016

What life looks like amid the Iranian diaspora in 'Tehranto'

Iranian refugee families enjoy a Sunday picnic at Toronto Humber Bay Park. From the left: Sarvenaz Fahimi with her daughter and Behzad Abdolahi with his dog. Hana Khanjani taking a selfie with his father Nosrat Khanjani. Arash Tavakoli and Arezoo Victor talking together. Credit: Javad Parsa. Courtesy PRI.
by Javad Parsa, PRI

I started getting into photography when I was 18 and bought my first camera with money I earned waiting tables in a restaurant in Sari, in northern Iran.

In 2005, I began taking pictures for the Fars News Agency in Iran, after I met its picture editor by chance. I came to realize though that I was born in a country where real democracy does not exist. I never imagined myself as one of the thousands of Iranians that would flee their homeland, but I had to get out of Iran in 2009. The government had issued an arrest warrant for me, after my images of the Iranian uprising that year were published abroad.

In my new life outside of Iran, I have met with many other Iranians, and developed a project to document their lives. They all have different reasons for leaving their mother country. But everyone I have spoken to hopes that one day, they can return to Iran — but to an Iran where they are allowed to vote in truly democratic elections, to speak freely, to dress the way they want and to freely practice their religion and beliefs.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Love Is Something Heavy

An interview with mixed media artist Sara Rahbar
Photograph by Arash Yaghmaian. Courtesy Autre Magazine.

Intro text by Keely Shinners; Interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper, Autre Magazine

Sara Rahbar is an artist who bravely transverses borders and permeates boundaries. Though often labeled an “Iranian American artist” (her family fled Iran in 1982 during the beginning of the Revolution), she prefers to relocate herself in a collective humanity. Transcending genre, her work ranges from photography and paint to textiles and sculpture. Rahbar’s work reflects this permeability, combining seemingly antithetical ideas – American flags sewn together with traditional Middle Eastern fabrics, hearts made out of military backpacks – in a beautiful and generative juxtaposition.

At the same time that Rahbar moves fluidly between varying geographies and ideations, she maintains immovable strength in herself and her work. She says, “I love strong things.” Here, she’s talking about working with bronze in sculpture. But this statement speaks to the artist’s attitude towards art, selfhood, and humanity at large. In a world where pervasive pain and violence can feel crippling, Rahbar is able to find peace – by going vegan, by thinking critically, and namely, by concretizing our anxieties through art.

Sara Rahbar will be showing new work from now until May 6th at NADA in New York City for Carbon 12 Dubai Gallery. We got to talk to the artist before the opening about exploring identity, documenting history through art, and communicating emotion in the age of superficiality.

OLIVER KUPPER: Your work deals a lot with conflict and identity loss. This sense of tumult has really seeped into your upbringing. Do you have really clear memories of leaving Iran during the revolution?

SARA RAHBAR: No, I really don’t. I have blacked out a lot. I left Iran when I was like four and a half or five. And I can barely remember anything from that whole time period. In the beginning people just assumed that my work was about identity because my first body of work was the flag series, but I wasn’t thinking about identity  at all when I made them, it was always about so much more than that for me.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Poster Arts of May Day: International Worker’s Day in Revolutionary Iran

May Day poster distributed by the Democratic Student’s Organization. Asheville, NC, Flood Gallery Fine Art Center Collection, “In Search of Lost Causes– Fragmented Allegories of an Iranian Revolution.” —Hamid Dabashi, PhD, The Black Mountain Press, 2013 (Photo: Carlos Steward, Flood Gallery Fine Art Center). Courtesy Ajam Media Collective.
by Rustin ZarkarAjam Media Collective

On the first of May, 1979, hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured out into the streets to celebrate International Worker’s Day. As a public festival created by the Second International to commemorate the 1886 Haymarket riots in Chicago, May Day became a holiday that was adopted by leftist organizations all over the globe.

Iranian left-wing groups began celebrating International Worker’s Day as early as the 1920s. Uninhibited after the departure of Reza Shah in 1941, many extant labor unions came together to form the Central Council of United Trade Unions (Shura-ye Motahedeh-ye Markazi) in 1944. In subsequent years, the labor movement continued to grow and May Day processions displayed the increasing power of a unified working class. During the height of Tudeh influence in the late 1940’s, May Day festivities in Tehran were attended by more than 80,000 people. However, the dominance of the labor movement was short-lived; following the coup d’état of 1953, trade unionism was virtually annihilated through bans and mass arrests. May Day processions would not be permitted until the final years of the Pahlavi era.

Free from the state repression of the Pahlavi era and well before the solidification of power under Khomeinist forces, the revolutionary period from 1979-1981 saw massive mobilization of the general populace. International Worker’s Day became an ideological battleground as competing political organizations—secular and religious—organized their constituents and articulated their interpretation of worker’s solidarity. Visual ephemera related to May Day– posters, more specifically– are testaments to the pluralistic nature of the early years of the Revolution. By looking at various posters disseminated by organizations of the time, one can see how various political factions used similar visual motifs and iconography.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

“But Still Tomorrow Builds into My Face”: exploring history, conflict and identity

at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai

A group exhibition revisits the disappearance and loss of cultural and other types of heritage in the Middle East.

Eight artists from Europe, the United States, North Africa and the Middle East engage with notions of collecting, power, history, conflict and identity, while exploring the ongoing disappearance and erasure of cultural as well as other types of heritage, especially taking place now in the conflictual territories of the Middle East.
Taus Makhacheva, ‘Tightrope’, 2015, 4K video, duration: 73:03 min. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi, the artist and Art Radar.

by C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia, Art Radar

But Still Tomorrow Builds into My Face” runs until 19 May 2016 at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai. The exhibition is curated by independent critic and curator Nat Muller and includes the work of eight artists hailing from different parts of the world, and united in one purpose: exploring the “timely topic” of the disappearance and loss of cultural and other types of heritage. As the press release writes,
The works explore the relationship between collecting, power, history, conflict and identity. By snatching away subjects from the jaws of time and permanent loss, and by fixing them in memory, the works become poetic and political acts of preservation.
Talking to Art Radar, Nat Muller explains about the significance of holding an exhibition on such a topic now, located in the Middle East, where in recent years especially, there has been an ongoing destruction of cultural and historical heritage:
Much of the world, but especially the Middle East, seems to find itself at a crossroad. What the show does in a forceful way is query who controls history and the artifacts of time. History is an incredible geo-political resource of power: who controls time, controls history and the future. It is very much an exhibition about identity too: by what and how will we be remembered?
Nat Muller goes on to explain that, although the issue of cultural loss and destruction of heritage is a timely topic, the exhibition is not meant to be a tool for creating awareness:
I am in general not really interested in the “functionality” of art. Art, and the perception of it, operates on many levels, so reducing it to a mere tool that is instrumentalised is reductive. In other words, this is not an awareness-raising campaign. It is true that the show addresses a timely topic, but that is only part of the story. It makes a much more layered and universal argument about loss, memory and history, but does so through beautifully poetic works. This confusion of the political with the poetic is intentional. In addition, the show is very much about the challenging position of art and the artist in the face of adversity and how they can offer resistance and resilience, but also how this position is very much at risk. As such, many of the works incorporate something ephemerality.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Wim Delvoye unveils plans for museum in historic Iranian city

Belgian artist restores palatial buildings in Kashan and creates works with Isfahan metalworkers
The complex of buildings that Wim Delvoye is restoring in Kashan. Courtesy The Art Newspaper.
by Tim CornwellThe Art Newspaper

The Belgian artist Wim Delvoye is carefully restoring five desert mansions in Iran’s historic oasis city of Kashan. He plans to open a 900 sq. m gallery in one of them to show his art alongside changing exhibitions of work by Iranian and international artists.

Delvoye is also planning to move his art-making operation to Iran, he tells us. “All the things I do in Europe, I will do here,” he says. He has already employed traditional Isfahan metalworkers to work on new sculptures for his solo show at Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art (until 13 May). He is committed to another, smaller show at the Isfahan Museum of Contemporary Art, he says.

In Kashan, which is a three-hour drive south of the capital, Tehran (halfway to the historic city of Isfahan), Delvoye is employing more than 20 people, including traditional Iranian craftsmen and Iranian and European architects. The project could see him open a Belgian restaurant serving vegetarian cuisine.

Delvoye compares this project with Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery in London, or the German sculptor Thomas Schütte’s planned museum for his work in the town of Hombroich, near Düsseldorf. Others have compared Delvoye’s plans with the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, designed by the French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s and 1930s.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Pinning our hopes...

....on a murderer″

A report by Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar
Parastou Forouhar came to Germany from Iran to study art. Her world fell apart as she learnt of the death of her parents, political activists Daryoush Forouhar und Parvaneh Eskandari. It took ten years for her to get her own life back. Yet traces of the terrible events that unfolded in her homeland at the end of the nineties can still be found today in her art and in her actions. Courtesy Qantara.

When the news of repeated break-ins at her parents′ house reached Parastou Forouhar in January, the artist, who lives in Germany, travelled to Iran to deal with the situation in person. The house that had belonged to her parents, political activists Daryoush Forouhar and Parvaneh Eskandari, before they were murdered by the secret service, had been completely vandalised. 

by Parastou Forouhar, Qantara.de

There was a huge padlock on the front gate, put there just recently by my aunt to prevent the house from being broken into again. The gate was damaged. The chipped paint showed where the burglars had struck it with a hammer.

"When we came here after the break-in, a lot of things were lying around in the garden," my aunt told me. "Clothes, bags, a radio and the rug with your mother′s bloodstains on it – which they had thrown into the corner of the flower bed." The house had obviously been looted. The emptiness left by stolen objects leapt out at me.

″You have to feel the hardness of the fist to really understand where you live″

An old party comrade of my parents told me an anecdote as he carefully gathered up papers from the floor. In the 70s he went to visit Gholam-Hossein Saedi – a gifted writer and courageous regime opponent – in hospital. Saedi, who had been attacked and beaten by an "unknown" gang of thugs, said: "Sometimes you have to feel the hardness of the fist to really understand where you live." These words stayed with me throughout my stay in Tehran.

When I opened the house to visitors on Thursday afternoon, as usual, the atmosphere was emotional, heated. "They′ve stolen the people from this place, as well as the objects," said a friend.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Iran TV series set in 1950s draws big audiences with echoes in politics today

With its depiction of Iran under late shah’s despotic rule comes Shahrzad, an independent online drama with parallels in current events
A scene from Shahrzad. The series has viewers glued to their screens in a country where independent online series are a new departure. Photograph: Amirhossein Shojaee/shahrzadseries.com. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent, The Guardian

Footsteps resonate on cobblestones, snooker clubs are open, women and men go partying together, cabarets are full, the alcohol flows, chapeaux are fashionable, the national theatre is showing Othello and, in the small cinemas along Lalehzar – old Tehran’s Champs-Élysées, Casablanca is showing.

This is Iran 1950s-style, brought back to life in the online TV series Shahrzad, the most expensive production of its kind in the country. Once a week, when a new episode is released, the show has the whole nation glued to their screens.

Netflix may not have yet infiltrated Iranian households, but its style of gripping filmmaking has. Shahrzad is drawing huge audiences in a country where independent online series, produced privately, are becoming increasingly popular as people turn their backs on tightly controlled state television for online substitutes or illegal satellite channels.

Like most films made in Iran, Shahrzad has already been approved by the censors – every single scene, each dialogue and costume has been carefully examined to make sure it adheres to the norms. The result, however, is a series that treads a fine line, even even at times showing the generally unshowable, such as women singing.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Lights, Camera, Revolution

A brief history of Iranian cinema, from Haji Agha to Agha Farhad
Ezzatollah Entezami in The Cow. Courtesy REORIENT.
Iranian cinema has long served as a mirror, reflecting a nation that has absorbed foreign influences, defied restrictions, and expressed hope for its future, all the while proudly drawing upon its own ideologies and deeply-rooted tradition of storytelling

by Zara Knox, REORIENT

To best understand the roots of Iranian cinema, one must perhaps travel back to the early 20th century, when the Qajar monarch Mozaffareddin Shah was shown cinematographic footage during a visit to France. The cinematograph, invented in 1892, was the successor to the kinetoscope that granted viewers the ability to watch quality, illuminated images on a screen, as opposed to through Thomas Edison’s ‘peephole’. Enraptured by the projected pictures of ships crossing the River Seine, street scenes, and camels traversing the Sahara, the Shah ordered his personal photographer, Mirza Ebrahim Khan ‘Akasbashi’ (lit. ‘Master Photographer’), to buy all the equipment necessary to bring film to Iran.(1) The first cinema there was opened in the backyard of an antique dealer in 1904, and soon afterwards, similar establishments cropped up all over Tehran. Such places were initially frequented by the upper classes, mainly, until cinema took over as the most popular form of entertainment, with ticket prices kept deliberately low in order to attract audiences from all backgrounds.

This national interest in cinema also resulted in the opening of the first film schools, most notably Ovanes Ohanian’s Cinema Artist Educational Centre in 1930.(2) An Iranian of Armenian origin, Ohanian had honed his skills at Moscow’s School of Cinematic Art, and was determined to establish a film industry in Iran. Ohanian went on to collaborate with a handful of his graduates on his first feature-length comedy, Haji Agha, Aktor-e Sinema (Haji Agha, the Cinema Actor, 1933), the follow-up to the commercially successful Abi o Rabi (Abi and Rabi, 1930). Haji Agha, starring the director himself, centred on a filmmaker’s attempts to film an unwilling subject, went as far as to praise the virtues of cinema itself. In Nader T. Homayoun’s 2006 documentary, Iran: A Cinematic Revolution, the film historian Mohammad Saninejad claimed that Haji Agha
… Argues cinema’s case eloquently. It presents this art as a modern, progressive tool, in contrast to traditionalist thoughts and values. Ohanian does not tell a story. He had the good idea of showing Iranians their world, setting up a dialogue between them, their thoughts, and the outside world.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

You and Me

“Has a people on the march ever melted away? Tell me where. And how.”
–Jean Genet, Prisoner of Love
Nicky Nodjoumi, Invasive Personality, 2015. Oil on canvas. 65 × 85 inches. Courtesy the artist, Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York and the Brooklyn Rail.
by Yasaman AlipourThe Brooklyn Rail

Nicky Nodjoumi’s exhibition, You and Me, fills two floors of the Taymour Grahne Gallery. The show is made up of his familiar large paintings and a group of sketches that, taken together, represent a new iteration of old thoughts. Inside the anti-iconic culture of his native Iran, Nodjoumi’s practice is daring and bold because of his figurative approach; abroad, he is recognized as the Iranian counterpart of contemporary artists contemplating Social Realism. Whether it is read through Iran’s complex history or from a global humanistic perspective, Nodjoumi’s work evokes the abyss of modern socio-politics.

The artist is famous for his monumental political allegories. In the ten large panels presented here, men are placed next to and in contrast with wild animals amid the surreal ruins of modern societies. Nodjoumi’s canvases become stages; the men study, obey, mimic, and ultimately become the animals. It’s an absurd game of power that the men join without objection. Willingly, slowly, they lose their identity.

In comparison to peers like Neo Rauch and the Kabakovs, Nodjoumi’s symbolism is simple—suited men refer to power, female nudes to desire—and his technique seemingly naïve—cartoonish and, at points, happily flawed. Nonetheless, these artists share a common background; they were all born within, failed by, and have moved beyond Social Realism.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Proposal to privatise Tehran’s Modern art museum causes alarm

Director denies that politicians want to transfer collection to private foundation 
(NB this article was slightly modified in light of events unfolding today)
A protest planned for today, and worried reports were beginning to swirl on social media. Image courtesy Tarane Sadeghian
by Tim Cornwell, The Art Newspaper

A reported proposal from Iran’s Ministry of Guidance and Islamic Culture that Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art (TMoCA) and its extraordinary art collection of Western and Iranian art be transferred to a private foundation has caused deep alarm in the arts community.

The museum’s collection includes Modern masterworks acquired before the Islamic Revolution. As last summer’s nuclear deal with Iran has led to an easing of sanctions, museums in Europe and the US have been vying to borrow the works by Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and Warhol among others, may of which have not been seen in the West for 40 years.

An official letter was sent to the museum proposing that it is transferred to the Rudaki Foundation, a source familiar with the institution tells The Art Newspaper. The foundation already supervises the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. 

A protest planned for today, and worried reports were beginning to swirl on social media. However, the museum’s director issued assurances that the plan had been “dissolved” for now. It seems that there has been no official statement on any plan for the transfer. 

"That this collection has remained intact throughout political shifts in Iran is a testament to the power of art and the centrality of culture to the Iranian people," says Shiva Balaghi, a specialist in Middle Eastern art and a visiting scholar at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. "This collection ultimately belongs to the people and should remain in the museum, cared for by art professionals. In turn, the museum's budget should reflect its mission to preserve, document, and exhibit this collection that has universal importance beyond Iran's borders as well."

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Interview with Bijan Daneshmand

The London based, Iranian Bijan Daneshmand tells art journalist and writer Lisa Pollman about his work and how it's inspired by Persian architecture and mathematical principles.
Bijan Daneshmand, Rood, 2016, Oil on canvas, 122 x 122 cm. Courtesy the artist and Janet Rady Fine Art.
by Lisa Pollman, JRFA

At one time, you worked as a Civil Engineer. Does your education and training in this specific occupation have an impact on your work? How?

From my teen years on, I enjoyed drawing and had an interest in structures and buildings - both in terms of how they were built and their aesthetics. I chose Civil Engineering as a degree at Kings College London.

I was inspired by Mondrian and the De Stijl Movement, and later by Frank Stella and Agnes Martin. In particular, I was inspired by the grid type patterns, hard edge finish and solid areas of paint. Rather than say the education or my occupation impacted my work, I would say that I entered an occupation and pursued work that I found interesting and aesthetically engaging. Many years later, I pursued a MA in Fine Art at Chelsea mainly to find direction in my practice.

Explain your interest in Persian architecture. Are there any particular facades that you admire? Which ones?

I have a special feeling for the architecture of my country in both the larger cities of Isfahan, Yazd and Kashan as well as the smaller towns and villages such as Natanz, Nishapur, Gonbad, and Abyaneh. Throughout Iran we have creative and intricate buildings: garden houses, tea houses, private houses, government buildings, palaces and mosques that date from the Persepolis (6th century BC) to later works in the 13th and 14th centuries. More recent works from the Qajar and Pahlavi eras are also of interest.

Persian architecture displays strength in structure and aesthetics. I would say the most notable areas of inventiveness and originality are in our arches, vaults and domes and further demonstrated through the use of ghanats (groundwater systems) and wind towers for cooling. Some argue that the greatest Persian artform has been our architecture and represents the highest and truest expression of our civilisation. I would add poetry to that.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Playing on the big screen this Iranian new year

Tehran Bureau correspondent joined the crowds queuing in the Tehran winter for the Fajr Film Festival. These are the movies Iranians will be watching over Nowruz
Me directed by Soheil Beiraqi. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Tehran Bureau correspondent, The Guardian

This 34th Fajr Film Festival, which ran for 11 days from 1 February, previewed most movies that will be in cinemas around Iran in the coming year. Being popular at Fajr can boost a film through creating a buzz on television, magazines and social media. 


Fajr can also be helpful on what to avoid. Critic Shadmehr Rastin scoffed on Channel 4’s programme Sinamayeh Iran (Iranian Cinema): “If you want to sell your movie, add a runway girl and a secret pregnancy.” And in truth, betrayal, pregnancy and an angry older brother were a common theme this year. 

Audiences seeking a break from familiar story lines had to attend screenings in the Negah-e No (new look) section, for first-time directors, or Honar-o Tajrobeh (art and experience), added the previous year to showcase art-house films.

Ehsan Biglari and Hamireza Qorbani, two former assistant directors to Oscar-winning writer and director Asghar Farhadi, presented their first feature films in Negah-e No, with Farhadi himself taking a break from shooting his latest project to attend the premieres.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Seeing Red

Nomad. Rocker. Lover. The story of Reza Derakshani, an Iranian.
Reza Derakshani, Red Hunting from 'Hunting Series', Oil on Canvas. Courtesy the artist and Sophia Contemporary Gallery. 
by Joobin BekhradREORIENT

He stood there, motionless before the rusty microphone, not knowing what to do with his tanned, wiry hands. A haze of smoke and flowers lingered about in the air, and, in the corner of his eye, he could make out the longhair delicately rolling a joint and smacking his lips. He didn’t make too much of it at first, just as he hadn’t recognised the fellow in the corner after the gig at the boozer in town. It came on like a slow burn, like some supernal, numbing high, inching its way up his knees towards his damp navel and rumbling viscera. A spate of blurred images rushed past his eyes: shining leather trousers, a woman from the city of angels, drawn-out afternoons spun away by hot, scratched vinyl, the glow of blood-red pomegranates. It was then that it hit him: how had he come all that way, from the sleepy village of Sangsar, to be where he was at that particular moment in time? His hands moist, he awkwardly grappled with the forlorn microphone before clearing his throat with a curt cough. Once, many moons ago, an American poet had howled into the same hunk of metal before him, telling tales of loneliness, bacchanalia, and rapture; but as soon as he opened his mouth, the phantom of old Jim fizzled away into those folds of smoke, out of which appeared that of the bard of Shiraz, kindler of hearts. He could feel his knees again; with eyes closed, looking inwards towards a warm, lambent space, he remembered what the stars looked like atop the Alborz mountains.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Images from a colonial childhood in Iran

British filmmaker Miranda Pennell introduces The Host, her personal account of oil, empire and family
A snapshot of the family in Iran. Photograph: Miranda Pennell. Courtesy the BP archive, Pennell family photographs and the Guardian.
by Tehran BureauThe Guardian

The film begins inside a box of Kodak Ektachrome slides. The box has my name written on it. Inside, the snow-capped peaks of the Zagros mountains rise up behind a big, glass-fronted house in north Tehran. Looking at this image I remember a pair of pale yellow flip-flops bobbing up and down on the surface of the kidney-shaped swimming pool. My father had jumped in to fish Azar out of the pool because she’d fallen in at the deep end, fully dressed, and couldn’t swim.

Or so the story went. Azar was the nanny who’d looked after me, and was married to Mohammad, the head servant. I don’t think I actually witnessed Azar’s rescue, and on reflection, I am not sure that I ever saw the yellow flip-flops floating on the water, either. This may be just one of those stories told within a family that gain solidity with each retelling, and whose imagery lives on in memory long after all of the protagonists and witnesses are gone.

I find no images of Tehran itself in the box, nor of any urban life beyond this cool, suburban idyl. But by now I am curious about the troubling story behind these records of a colonial encounter which I find myself bound up in.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Universally Iranian: artists without borders

Artists who have left the country discuss some of the lures and pitfalls of being branded Iranian
Nicky Nodjoumi, Going Back Home, 2014, oil on canvas, 20h x 24w in / 50.8h x 61w cm. Courtesy Taymour Grahne Gallery.
by Matteo Lonardi for Tehran BureauThe Guardian

Generations of Iranian artists who have emigrated have struggled with a dualism. On one hand, they want to make art speaking to universal issues. On the other, the market may expect their work to reflect a homeland where they no longer live.

As the country’s geopolitical isolation grew after the 1979 Revolution, Iranian art became sought after by European or American art buyers seeking to enhance their worldly image as collectors. They wanted pieces that would appear Iranian to someone who had never been to the country.

The image of a struggling Iranian artist making work about his tough life makes for “a sexy story,” explains Iranian-American artist Amir Fallah. “It’s exciting for [collectors]. They have been doing that with African-American artists for decades. I’ve tried to resist it as much as I can.”

Some artists navigate this dichotomy well, securing their place on the world art scene. Last year three major museums on the east coast of the United States held exhibitions of Iranian artists. Shirin Neshat had her retrospective at the Hirsh Horn Museum in Washington DC. Parviz Tanavoli’s sculptures were displayed at Wellesley College in Boston. Monir Farman Farmaian had a solo show at the Guggenheim in New York.

These and other artists face a market that expects their work to reflect today’s Iran. It is difficult to identify the degree to which any of the emigre artists profiled below conform to these expectations. But all of them admit to grappling at some point with the issue as artists with an Iranian past.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Here's What It's Like to Make A Short Film with Abbas Kiarostami in 10 Days

I had lost my passion for filmmaking — and found it again in Cuba.
The author with Sitora Takanaev and Abbas Kiarostami. Courtesy Black Factory Cinema and  Indiewire.
by Martin Snyder, Indiewire

After graduating from Columbia University and toiling for years as a screenwriter, I finally made my feature film debut in 2013 with an independent, romantic comedy called "Missed Connections." The film won multiple audience awards at festivals, reached number one on iTunes’ independent sales charts and The Playlist even suggested me as a "filmmaker to keep an eye on." Things were looking up. I went to Hollywood, represented by a major talent agency, drank numerous coffees and pitched a myriad of ideas and yet something was missing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what it was, was telling stories that mattered to me and symbolized the kind of films I wanted to make. I was pitching ideas and working on scripts I thought could sell, all the while forgetting why I got into film in the first place — to tell stories of ups and downs, class and religious differences, self-identity, broken families, uprooting from one place to another. Actual life themes that had embedded to me like leaves to stone.

So after a series of false starts on various movie projects, I put writing on hold, moved with my new family from New York to Texas and focused on a tech entrepreneurial venture. Film would have to wait...only it couldn't. Through some divine intervention, I happened upon this Indiewire article on Abbas Kiarostami’s workshop in Cuba. Abbas Kiarostami? Cuba? Here, along with Louis Malle, Eric Rohmer and Michael Haneke, was a master filmmaker whose films I was incredibly passionate about. I thought, what better way to be immersed in film, strengthen my filmic voice, grow as a writer and deepen my artistic practice, than with the master himself — in Cuba no less.

I knew I had to go on this journey so that I could find my passion again.

Friday, 4 March 2016

“Where We Are Standing”

3 contemporary Iranian women artists at Edward Hopper House Art Center

Exhibition takes an intimate look at artists’ “diasporic biographies” through the complexities of Iran’s socio-political milieu. 

Where We Are Standing: Contemporary Women Artists from Iran” brings together works from 3 artists born before the Iranian Revolution and currently residing in North America.
Golnar Adili, ‘The King-Seat of My Eye is the Place of Repose for Your Imagination’, 2010, two photographs hand-cut and interlaced, 20 x 30 in. Image courtesy the artist and Art Radar. 
by Lisa Pollman, Art Radar

“Where We Are Standing: Contemporary Women Artists from Iran” at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in New York State runs until 24 April 2016. The show is curated by the Centre’s Artistic Director Carole Perry and features Iranian diaspora artists Golnar Adili, Roya Farassat and Shabnam K. Ghazi. The exhibition was a result of a series of serendipitous events, as Perry told Art Radar:
This exhibition came about because two of the artists (Golnar Adili and Roya Farassat) happened to separately submit exhibition proposals to the Edward Hopper House. I liked both of their work, and had just become familiar with Shabnam Ghazi’s work. It struck me that these three artists together would make a strong and compelling show. They all grew up in Tehran, although they came of age at different times. Their work is not connected, other than the strong influence their upbringing and their subsequent displacement had on their visions.

The Edward Hopper House Art Center is located in Nyack, New York and is the birthplace of American realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper (1882-1967). The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, opened in 1971 and according to the organisation’s website, seeks “to encourage and nurture community engagement with the arts”.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Dragon Arrives!

An orange Chevrolet Impala drives across a cemetery towards an abandoned shipwreck in the middle of a desert landscape. It is the 22nd of January, 1965. The day before, the Iranian prime minister was shot dead in front of the parliament building. Inside the wreck, a banished political prisoner has hung himself. The walls are covered in diary entries, literary quotes and strange symbols. Can they help Police Inspector Babak Hafizi in his investigations? Will they shed any light on why there is always an earthquake whenever somebody is buried in this desert cemetery?
Assisted by a sound engineer and a geologist, Hafizi begins his investigations on the ancient island of Qeshm in the Persian Gulf. Fifty years later, their entire evidence, along with intelligence tape recordings, are found in a box, the contents of which attest to the fact that the inspector and his colleagues were arrested. But why? In his new film, Mani Haghighi once again creates a grotesquely absurd experimental set-up. His playful reenactment of mysterious events revolves around a real-life episode – but also imagines a truth of its own. – Berlinale

Still from 'A Dragon Arrives!' (Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!, Dir/scr. Mani Haghighi. Iran. 2016. 107 mins. Ali Bagheri, Amir Jadidi, © Abbas Kosari. Courtesy  Berlinale.

Berlin Review

by Lee Marshall, Screen International

Occasionally a film comes along that is as impressive as it is baffling. Iranian director Mani Haghighi’s fifth feature A Dragon Arrives! is such: a meta-cinematic detective story set in 1960s Iran, shot through with counter-culture references and magical realism, channelling both the Westernised cool of the country’s pre-Revolution intelligentsia and the climate of fear and paranoia engendered by the Shah’s repressive regime.

The director deploys an array of post-modern cinematic tricks, from mockumentary-style interviews, to temporal leaps, cool costumes and set design (especially a flame-orange Chevrolet Impala), to a flamboyantly loud rock-influenced soundtrack by Christophe Rezai. The flash and panache of the style sometimes distracts us from storyline and ten different viewers are likely to have ten different opinions about what actually happened in this film. Whether this narrative obliquity will harm the film’s prospects of being seen by arthouse audiences outside of Iran remains to be seen. Certainly this is a good-looking package, more glamorously cinematic than anything Haghighi has made to date.

At its core, this is (probably) a story about three men who go the remote, desertified Iranian island of Qeshm in 1965 to investigate the aftermath of the suicide of a political prisoner. One, Babak Hafizi (Amir Jadidi) – a trilby-and-shade-sporting detective straight out of a Godard film – works as a detective for the Shah’s secret police, referred to as ‘The Agency’. But his mission here seems motivated by personal curiosity: spending the night in a rusted hulk of a ship that somehow got washed up in a desert valley, near a cemetery where earthquakes take place whenever anyone is buried, he brings two acquaintances to check out the seismic conundrum. One, Keyvan Haddad (Goudarzi) is a mystically-inclined sound engineer whose hippy hair and garb would have been precocious even in mid-sixties America. The other, Behnam Shokouhi (Ghanizadei), is a geologist who can identify rocks by tasting them.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Going their own way

For a long time, Persian classical music was considered untouchable. Now the sons of Iran′s great ustads have begun to change traditional music. 
Homayoun Shajarian and Sohrab Pournazeri (source: YouTube). Courtesy Qantara.
by Marian Brehmer, Qantara.de

Scarcely a country in the Middle East is as proud of its musical tradition as Iran. There are few other places in the world where people′s ears are so attuned to the voices of great classical singers. Step into one of the popular shared taxis in Tehran and there′s a good chance the car radio will be playing a classical Persian song.

The last few decades have seen Iran′s traditional music scene dominated by the same stars – Mohammad Reza Shajarian, Shahram Nazeri and Ali Reza Eftekhari. These voices have become hallmarks of the industry and conveyors of important memories, be they personal or historical and political.

Change within a set frame

Iranian singing is based on the traditional dastgah tonal system, characterised by different scales and melodic groups. This system, which forms the basis of Persian classical music, was first systemised at the end of the 19th century. Since then, new elements have been added, but always within a set frame. Just like Persian poetry, which until the emergence of the she′ r-e no (modern verse) adhered to a set of strict rules, Persian classical music was long considered sacrosanct by both singers and instrumentalists.

Friday, 12 February 2016

The Iranian Art Scene Is Exploding Right Now

Jackson Pollock's 'Mural on Indian Red Ground' in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. All photos by the author. Courtesy Bruno Macaes/Vice.

by Bruno Macaes, Vice

More than once I have heard it said that Jackson Pollock, not Reagan, won the Cold War. After all, in those first two decades, when it was a matter of deciding which regime best symbolized the future, Pollock's abstract expressionism showed America to be a reactionary force capable of forging ahead. On the crucial front of the imagination, the Soviet Union could only retreat.

With these thoughts in mind, I headed to see one of Pollock's masterpieces now being shown in Tehran to find out how this exhibition came about and what subtle impact it might have.

Contrary to what some international media outlets have claimed, it is not the first time that the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art has shown Pollock's Mural on Indian Red Ground, one of the great works of American contemporary art in its collection. The museum also hasn't refrained from showing its Warhols, Oldenburgs, and Lichtensteins. That particular revolution happened 15 years ago. The only requirement that the Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance seems to pose is that curators find an appropriate context for showing these works. In this case, the paintings serve as counterpoints to the work of Iranian artist Farideh Lashai (1944–2013), a modernist of prodigious imaginative powers, who is the main focus of the exhibition.

When I meet the Iranian curator, Faryar Javaherian, I tell her that I am particularly impressed by Lashai, especially some of her video art, both lyrical and surreal. But, it turns out, those videos were neither as short nor as surreal as I had thought. They had simply been clipped under censorship instructions. One of them was a particularly beautiful rendition of the classical poem "Layla and Majnun." Since, in Lashai's video, Layla appeared most often unveiled and even undressed, the public version had to be reduced to about 20 seconds, and it made very little sense. Something similar happened a few years ago, when one of the panels of a Francis Bacon triptych had to be removed for supposedly depicting a homosexual scene. The triptych became a diptych.

Watch a Pyramid of Mirrors Morph Based on Desert Weather

Courtesy Italian designer Gugo Torelli and Iranian artist Shirin Abedinirad
by Margaret RhodesWired

FOR A FEW days in October, a ziggurat of mirrored boxes stood in Dasht-e Kavir, a desert in central Iran. The sculpture contained sensors, gears, and an Arduino processor that sensed changes in the temperature and the light, which caused the tower’s nine tiers to spin independently. This being the desert, a place of extremes, the sculpture did a lot of spinning. From any angle, at any time, looking at it was like gazing into a kaleidoscope of the surrounding landscape.

The sculpture was called Babel Tower, and it was the work of Italian designer Gugo Torelli, who programmed the electronics, and Iranian artist Shirin Abedinirad, who handled the mirrors. Before collaborating with Torelli on Babel Tower, Abedinirad installed a similar ziggurat in Sydney for the Underbelly Arts Festival. That project looked more like an optical illusion—as though a shard of blue sky had fallen into the grass. The earthy hues and gradients of the Iranian desert, when reflected in multitudes, create an entirely different effect. It’s like you can see the entire landscape at once.

“We wanted to give a message of unity,” Torelli says. The Tower of Babel, if you need a refresher, appears in Genesis 11. The Biblical story describes an incredible collaboration: The people of the earth all spoke the same language, and decided to join forces and build a brick-and-tar tower where they could come together. As the story goes, the Lord sought to temper the power of the people to maintain control, so he made them all speak different languages. Although the people scattered to the far corners of the world and no longer shared a language, Tower of Babel even now is a symbol for a unified society.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Tales of exile and of home: Iranian diaspora in literature

Iranian fiction in English
Iranian woman walks through the snow at Azadi square in Tehran. Photograph: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters. Courtesy the Guardian.
by Sanaz Fotouhi for Tehran BureauThe Guardian

When I was at university studying English literature, I took an interest in diasporic and migrant writings. Authors from India, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean all told the same kind of stories of exile and resettlement. Their books raised a shared set of concerns, reflecting homelessness, loss and attempts to reconstruct identity.

As someone who is part of the Iranian diaspora, my heart connected to these stories, but at the same time I felt something was missing. Yes, I sympathised with the writers and related to their experiences, but I could not identify with the cultural details.

I felt my voice, as an Iranian living away from my homeland, was missing. Back then, in the late 1990s, there were few Iranians writing in English about their experiences.

This changed one summer when browsing a dingy bookstore in Hong Kong, I came across Susan Pari’s The Fortune Catcher. I read the book in two days, weeping my way through it. Finally someone had depicted my very own Iranian experience in English. Now the world might understand our stories. Stumbling on this book was the beginning of a journey that has preoccupied my life.

Over the next several years, I dedicated myself to finding, reading, and researching the literature of the Iranian diaspora. Gradually, I came upon an emerging body of work. These books grew from a handful in the late 1990s to around 300 today.

Having read most of the books by Iranian writers in English, at least those that I could get my hands on, I see a body of work that paints a beautifully diverse picture of the Iranian diaspora, and makes a great contribution to the way Iranians are seen and see themselves.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Initials B.B.

How the man who signs ‘B.B.’ plans to shake up the contemporary Iranian art scene
Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar – Self-Portrait (detail; from the Invincible series). Courtesy REORIENT.
by Joobin BekhradREORIENT

It was one of those afternoons I didn’t ever want to end. All I’d brought with me were a pair of bright blue jeans and snakeskin-print loafers you’d think I’d nicked from the closet of Lady Stardust himself. Before us, the sun was sinking down into the French Riviera, behind its winding hills, into a shining, rippled film flecked with the billowing white masts of what seemed to us on high like a thousand little sailboats. It was all a blur, London and the piss-soaked back alleys of Camden, though the paleness of my reflection in the mirror reminded me of my recent whereabouts. By all accounts, Sassan should have been the happiest of souls there and then, the strapping flaxen-haired lad in the looming shadows cast by two stone Persian lions; but he wasn’t, and still isn’t. His thoughts were far away from the sun, the sea, and those tiny sailboats; he was thinking about his beloved Iran. As was I.

As we sipped on cool rosé and my attention drifted at times towards the subdued strains of the band behind us, Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar told me about his plans to show not only his neighbours in the glitzy Riviera, but the world at large, what he called the ‘real Iran’. The time, he said, pushing back wayward locks of hair, was ripe for new blood in the contemporary Iranian art scene. It was time for change – enough of the tawdry chelo kababi mentality, as I termed it; Sassan would go big, not home. Together with his business savvy and his passion for the arts, he would establish a foundation of his own in support of Iranian artists and play by his own rules. Admittedly, it all sounded rather romantic, and the feeling was in no small way accentuated by the roseate draughts that poured forth from some seemingly endless source. Fortunately, though, we ultimately ended up doing what we said we would on that cool and heady night by the sea; I’ve finally penned that confounded little book of mine, and the doors to the House of Sassan – the Fondation Behnam Bakhtiar – have been swung wide open. That hasn’t calmed either of us down in the slightest, however.

Initially, this conversation was intended to be presented in the form of a podcast. On second thought, fearing that it might degenerate into a heated discussion about the arts between two hot-blooded Iranians, I instead decided to have Sassan explain – as coolly, yet candidly as possible – the premise of his new foundation and what he’s been up to for the past six months or so.

I’m hearing about new Middle East-related arts and cultural foundations so often … they’re popping up like mushrooms! You’ve got ones in the Middle East, Western Europe, North America … Why did you feel the need to establish a new one? What are the foundation’s primary aims and objectives?

Monday, 8 February 2016

‘To each his own weapon, I have my camera’: Iran's 1979 revolution – in pictures

It took Maryam Zandi more than three decades to get her photos of the revolution published

An Iranian revolutionary with a flower in his rifle. Photograph: Courtesy of Maryam Zandi and the Guardian.
by Tehran Bureau correspondent, The Guardian

I met Maryam Zandi last spring in the cherry-coloured hallways of downtown Tehran’s House of Artists, a prestigious gallery, auditorium and theatre inaugurated under the administration of the reformist president Mohammad Khatami. Zandi was ‘in conversation with’ photographer Nader Davoodi, but I was looking forward to interview her about her book, Enqelab-e 57, published more than three decades after the 1979 revolution.

Zandi fought long and hard to have the book, which spans the turbulent winter of 1978-9 when people gathered to topple the Shah, published in the form she wanted, with nearly 200 photos. Under the administrations of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the authorities said it could be allowed only with some parts removed - something she refused.

“This is a record of the rising of a people, it should be seen in its entirety,” she told me. After the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 presidential election, the culture minister agreed the book could be published whole.

The photographs run from the citywide demonstrations of November 1978 to 1 April 1979, the day of the national referendum with the simple question: ‘The Islamic Republic, Yes or No?’. They capture such momentous events as the mass march to Mohammad Mossadegh’s home in Ahmadabad, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s first media interview upon his return to Iran, at Alavi School. It was published in October 2014.

In the introduction, Zandi describes asking - almost negotiating - with a man at the door to let her into the school where only men were allowed that day. Aptly, the book begins with her plea: “To each his (or her) own weapon, I have my camera, and I have my cry.”

She recalled the frenzy of the revolutionary protests as a time of “inclusion, when divisions were momentarily set aside”. On one occasion, having found no one to take care of her baby daughter, she carried the infant in her arms and asked people to hold her as she took photos.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Linguistic diversity as opportunity

Mother-tongue instruction in multi-ethnic Iran

Iran is a state of many ethnicities where over a dozen languages are spoken, including, among others, Persian, Baluchi, Luri, Arabic, and Turkish. Unfortunately, the country’s education policy does not take account of this linguistic diversity.
Delegations from the peoples of Persia: ″since the Achaemenid era, Iran has been a state of many ethnicities and has remained in existence even without the imported concepts of ′nation′ and ′nation state′″, writes Manutschehr Amirpur. Courtesy Qantara.
by Manutschehr AmirpurQantara.de

The Islamic Republic of Iran has continued the policy of the old regime in that it only permits the learning of the country′s official language (Persian), even though this contradicts the obligations set out in the constitution. The widespread tradition of ′one country, one language′, which lives on across the Middle East despite the fact that reality is very different, is also alive and well in Iran.

A glance at the situation in neighbouring states highlights the problem. The country that has been known as the Republic of Turkey since the end of the First World War justifies its existence by the doctrine that the population of Asia Minor has only one language and one religion. This doctrine completely ignores the Kurds and the Alevis.

Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine – countries that were practically created on the drawing board by the French and English mandate powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of the First World War without any thought to ethnic or historical borders – also adhere to this policy. In fact, this policy, which is based on the principle of ′that which must not, cannot be′, is one of the reasons behind the civil wars in Turkey and Iraq.