Tehran is the seat where most of Iran’s artistic community resides and hopes to one day thrive, despite the tremendous censorship restrictions regarding who can perform and under which circumstances. Navigating these restrictions has become an art form itself, while social media sites (at least those that are allowed) are continuously monitored. Iran has very strict censorship rules regarding women’s appearance, and which topics are permitted to be discussed openly. Anything cultural or artistic that has the intention of being presented to the masses must first receive authorization and approval from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance before it can proceed into production. Plays, novels, videos, films and songs all are subject to scrutiny, and which ones are ultimately approved or dismissed is often decided by an arbitrary stroke of an official’s pen. Any plays that relate to politics or religion or refer to sexual issues are not allowed. Women vocalists are not permitted to sing solo in front of a male audience or make records, in part because of a long-standing idea that a woman’s voice will incite sexual excitement among men. Many artists have been forced to pursue their creative freedom by traveling underground (and in some cases quite literally), staging shows in tunnels, caves, homes or isolated fields where officials won’t see them, more so as an act of self-preservation rather than of rebellion. Iranian artists can navigate between the more mainstream and underground scenes as well. For example, it is possible for an artist to take part in an official performance while working on different underground/illegal projects.
Iran has seen faint promises of more civil freedoms since the arrival of newly elected president Hassan Rouhani, a moderate politician said to be in favor of promoting more arts. In January 2014, the band Pallett famously played to a live nationally televised audience, and in April of this year pop star Xaniar Khosravi performed on stage after having been previously rejected by the Ministry of Culture for having a Western sound, leading many to feel that change — albeit a slow drip — may be imminent.
Photographer Jeremy Suyker spent several months in the country following an underground culture of young dancers, painters, performing artists, musicians and vivacious creatives resilient in producing their passions outside the confines of censorship. In early 2013, while doing research on Iranian culture, Suyker received a tip from an Iranian friend in Paris that a dynamic art scene was unfolding in Tehran. He spent months with dozens of artists who welcomed him, not as an outsider to their secret society but as a fellow creative and storyteller reflecting the narrative of their intimate lives and struggles. The vision of what Iranian culture should appear to be on the surface — particularly among the younger generation — is turned on its head and rendered myopic through Suyker’s images.
by Jeremy Suyker, Maptia
The capital city of Tehran is the vibrant epicenter of arts and creation in Iran—for both the official and the underground scenes.
I spent several months between 2013 and 2014 following vivacious young actors, dancers, performing artists and musicians all resilient in producing their passions outside the confines of censorship — as well as inside.
While some were working officially, others preferred to go “underground”, seeking a greater freedom. Although the Islamic Republic has established a number of rules and limitations regarding arts, some are stricter than others and navigating these restrictions has become an art form itself.
Above the AV theatre group performs its play “Melpomene” in old underground thermal baths in the center of Tehran. Inspired by “Gardzienice,” a Polish experimental theatre, the AV theatre is based on music, movement, dialogue and close relationship with the audience.
Above actresses from AV theatre wear masks inspired by traditional fashion from Bandar Abbas in southern Iran. Most of the members are professionals, although some are still studying theatre at Tehran Art University. The group is currently composed of roughly 30 actors, all between 20 and 30 years old.
Below, the Nyia theatre group rehearse in a private studio in Tehran. In a few weeks time this blend of professional and amateur actors will attend the Iran International Festival of University Theatre.
The famous director Ali Raffi said, “The censors interfere with your work, watching your every move and ultimately the final decision is up to them, in other words, it is up to them if your work will develop or not.”
Above you see an actress getting dressed for a rehearsal of Ali Raffi’s adaptation of “Yerma,” Federico Garcio Lorca’s play. Agents from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance regularly attend rehearsals to ensure that female performers in Iran cover their hair and bodies at all times, and that other rules and guidelines are being followed.
Following its success in the ancient baths of Tehran, the AV group this time performs in a natural arena—the first of its kind in Iran. Four buses were chartered to the public and more than 200 people made the trip up to see the show, which took place in Roodafshan cave, two hours drive from the capital. The performance was legal but closely watched by agents of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Such women are an inspiration for the Iranian youth. They demonstrate that creativity associated with courage can open great possibilities.
S., 29, a professional singer in a band, defies the law. This recording will soon be available online. Most well-known Iranian singers, such as Googoosh, live in Los Angeles. Iranians listen through satellite, although they are also officially banned.
Iranian artists show formidable creativity and determination to cope with censorship. Tehran’s art scene is growing fast, giving birth to new talent and producing inspiring works.
All photos by Jeremy Suyker
Via Maptia and