Friday, 30 January 2015

Iranian culture to be celebrated in new UK season of events

Didgah – New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations. Courtesy The British Council.
by Danny Whitehead, The British Council

The cultural links between the UK and Iran will be explored and celebrated in a new series of events across the UK, launched January 28 by the British Council.

The ‘UK-Iran Season of Culture’ will feature three months of events which aim to promote, and develop the cultural relations ties between the UK and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Building on long-standing links and contemporary collaboration, the British Council’s UK-Iran Season of Culture will strengthen opportunities for greater cultural engagement, improve mutual understanding, and increase trust.

The British Council has brought together a number of major partners for the Season, including the V&A Museum, the British Library, the Southbank Centre, Asia House, Magic of Persia Foundation, Forest Fringe, the Edinburgh Iranian Festival, theatre groups 30Bird and ZENDEH, Wales One World Film Festival, Modern Poetry in Translation, and publishers IB Tauris.

The UK-Iran Season of Culture will see performances, talks, discussions, and exhibitions across the UK highlighting the richness of Iran’s heritage, the dynamism of its contemporary culture, and the strength of and potential opportunities for UK audiences and organizations in engaging with Iran. The Season comes at an important time in UK-Iran relations.

Danny Whitehead, the British Council’s Country Director Iran, said: “The political relationship between the UK and Iran has for much of the last 150 years been characterized by distrust and suspicion. Yet at the same time, there has developed in both countries a major respect for each other’s culture. We believe that cultural relations are among the strongest and most important tools that the UK and the Islamic Republic of Iran have for building trust and understanding which will be mutually beneficial for both countries. We are keen to support the UK’s wider diplomatic efforts to improve relations with Iran by developing the vitally important people-to-people links, which underpin support for political moves.”

The British Council marked the beginning of the season with the publication of a new book: New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations features UK and Iranian experts exploring  different areas of the bi-lateral relationship from cooperation during difficult times such as World War One, post-earthquake reconstruction in Bam, and collaboration and joint thought on chemical burns victims suffering from war atrocities, to UK influence on Iranian cinema, Iranian poetry in the UK, and the teaching and learning of English in Iran and of Farsi in the UK.

In his foreword to the publication, Lord Lamont, Chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce, said: “… cultural ties have been and remain one of the ways in which citizens of the two countries can maintain some communication and understanding of each other. The arts can bring us closer when all else fails … As our political leaders attempt to bring about an improved diplomatic climate, this volume is a timely reminder of the great bridging power of culture and the arts. I hope that it will help lead to greater understanding, co-operation and trust between our two countries.”

UK-Iran Season of Culture

 'Iran has among the highest rates of female enrolment in university in the world.' Photo by Beshef under Creative Commons licence. © Photo by Beshef under Creative Commons licence. Courtesy The British Council.
Things you probably didn’t know about Iran

The British Council’s Danny Whitehead runs through some of the more unexpected facts about Iran in  Didgah – New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations.

At a recent conference that I attended on EU-Iran relations, one of the speakers made the claim that the last two untapped markets for investors were Iran and the moon. And just like the moon, very few people in the UK have been to Iran, and there are a great many myths and misunderstandings about it.

Iran's economy is huge, despite sanctions

Many in the UK may be surprised to know that Iran’s economy is the second largest in the region (despite years of sanctions), and that it’s not based on petrochemicals. Income per capita from oil and gas is very small compared to its neighbours around the Persian Gulf, and according to the World Trade Organisation, Iran is the only country which exports in every single export category, making it arguably the most diversified economy in the world.

Female enrolment at university is high, very high

It may also surprise people to find out that Iran has among the highest rates of female enrolment in university in the world (more than 60 per cent), and the highest literacy rate in the region. Primary and secondary education are free and compulsory, and state-provided education at university level is also free, with significant support provided for accommodation and other expenses for university students.

The country is extremely diverse

Many will be unaware that 50 per cent of the population is below the age of 30, or indeed that it has the largest Jewish population in the region outside of Israel. Some may not know that Persian language, or Farsi, is an Indo-European language, and not an Arabic (Afro-Asiatic) language, and that the country is linguistically and culturally diverse, with Persian native speakers accounting for just 53 per cent of the population, and with seven other major cultural and linguistic minorities.

And, unfortunately, a large number of people will be unfamiliar with Iran’s incredibly rich and long cultural heritage stretching back thousands of years, and its wonderfully dynamic, modern creative industries and cultural sector.

Relations between UK and Iran are in fact strong

Despite 150 years of political distrust between our countries, cultural relations ties have remained strong, and as a result they are now amongst the most powerful tools we have for building trust and understanding. Unlike travelling to the moon, this doesn’t require rocket science – just an openness to engage in arts, education, and language.


The publication New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations  will be available as a hard copy book, and available to download free through the British Council’s website: Didgah – New Perspectives on UK-Iran Cultural Relations   

UK-Iran Season
Between January and March 2015, the British Council will lead a series of activities focusing on the cultural links between Iran and the UK. The season will open with a reception in Spring Gardens on the 28th of January and continue until a celebration of Persian New Year on the 3rd of March.

The UK Iran season will spotlight the rich and dynamic culture of modern Iran, and its ties with the UK in the areas of arts, education, and languages. It is intended to showcase existing partnerships and to provide a space and a platform for the development of new opportunities, partnerships, and collaboration for our audiences and partners. It is a core part of our goal to bring about better understanding of each other’s country, and through that understanding, to create trust.

Through nationwide exhibitions, performances, discussions, workshops, and seminars, the UK Iran Season of Culture will explore Iran’s cultural heritage and vibrant contemporary creativity, enabling the people of the UK to experience and re-interpret Iran.

Some of the key season events will be

·         Iran in Writing: Daljit Nagra in conversation with leading Iranian writers
18 Feb 18.30 – 20.00; British Library, London.
·         Art of Improvisation in Iranian Music
18 Feb 18.30 – 20.00; Asia House, London.
·         Master Builders in Qajar Tehran: The Mirza Akbar Drawings
04 Mar 19.00 – 21.00; V&A London
·         The Spirit of Nowruz Exhibition
04 Mar – 20 Apr; Spring Gardens
·         Day of Debate & Screenings: Iranian Cinema After the Revolution
21 Mar 10.30 – 18.30; Chapter, Cardiff
There are also a number of key publications including:
1)     Didgah: new perspectives on UK-Iran cultural relations. A collection of 15 authors sharing their opinion and perspectives of cultural relations between the UK and Iran.
2)     English Language Teaching in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Innovations, Trends and Challenges.
3)     Nowruz, Persian New Year Education Packs for Schools. School packs for primary school children in the UK including suggested plans for lessons and assemblies.

The full schedule is available online at UK-Iran Season of Culture programme


British Council and Iran

The British Council has worked in Iran since 1942. Although the British Council closed its office in Iran in 2009, we have continued our cultural relations work to support the aspirations of Iranian stakeholders who wish to maintain dialogue and contact with the UK.
We work in Iran in partnership with UK and Iranian partners. We also work with many of our partners such as teachers or educational institutions in English language through cascade models, and have significant reach through digital channels.

Even working remotely since 2009, in 2013/14 our work reached over 300,000 people, and we aim to reach over half a million Iranians in 2014/15.

We have provided English language teaching support to over 3,000 teachers in Iran, and have provided materials development support for the new curriculum which will reach every province of Iran.

Our arts work makes measurable change in perceptions, and we have facilitated major UK-Iran collaboration and cooperation in music, film, theatre, and architecture.

The British Council has responded to the recent improvements in the bilateral relationship by exploring new models of engagement with and in Iran, identifying opportunities for individuals and cultural relations organisations in both countries, and strengthening mutual understanding and cultural ties.

Key Iran Facts

1.     The Islamic Republic of Iran is the second most populous country in the Middle East, and it has maintained the second largest economy in the region despite recent years of sanctions. Its population is approximately 77 million.

2.     Iran is one of the most stable countries in the region, and is a top priority country for the UK in both the security and prosperity agendas. Economic growth projections are strong, subject to continued progress in other negotiations.

3.     Iran has one of the richest cultural and linguistic heritages. Standards of education are very high, and it has one of the highest rates of literacy in the region.

1 comment:

  1. That is great dear, such events in New York shows that they care about other cultures too and more than any cast, culture and region they value humanity. Great efforts!!