Monday, 7 May 2018

Time and Again: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art

Gushtasp and the Dragon of Mount Sakila, from the Shahnama of Firdausi, AH 1014/1605, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin (MS of. fol. 4251, fol. 460r), photo courtesy Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and Courtesy LACMA/Unframed.

by Linda Komaroff, Unframed

In spring 2014, while driving past Vali‘asr Square, one of Tehran’s busiest intersections, I was startled to see on the side of a building a huge billboard of President Barack Obama standing beside a menacing-looking man clad in armor over a red robe and a helmet festooned with red feathers. As I later understood, the towering image appropriated and recontextualized a central event from the early history of the Shi‘ite branch of Islam, the majority faith of Iran. It referenced an incident in 680 when the villainous Shimr offered refuge to and then murdered the Imam Husain at Karbala, in Iraq. Meant to convey a contemporary political message, it subtly linked Barack Obama with Shimr’s odious duplicity. Shimr’s distinctive wardrobe, with its red accents, reflects not a seventh-century context, but rather the domain of ta‘ziya, a Shi‘ite passion play performed by costumed reenactors, something that would be recognizable to most passersby in Vali‘asr, though not as yet to me. But what struck me was the assured and authentic manner in which this anachronistic pair of figures was presented, something familiar to me from my study of both historical and contemporary Iranian art.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Fajr International Film Festival: Tehran meets Hollywood

Iranian actors, Indian directors and a Hollywood icon have come together in Tehran at Asia's oldest film festival.

The film festival's poster. Courtesy DW.

by Theresa Tropper, Deutsche Welle

DW: What distinguishes the "Fajr International Film Festival" from other major festivals?

Reza Mirkarimi: We are the oldest film festival in Asia and as such, we provide a platform for unknown filmmakers and actors from the region to showcase their work. For example, we show works from Afghanistan, Anatolia and the Caucasus. Our topics include problems within families and cultures and the struggle for independence in many countries. Our goal is to be open to all people and also to expand peoples' knowledge a little.

The festival is taking place for the 36th time. How has it changed over the years?

In the three years since I have been running the festival, we have established a good relationship with the government. The government organizes the festival, but it trusts us and therefore gives us the freedom to do something good for many people through our work — not only for the filmmakers and actors, but also for the audience.

The festival is also a networking forum for filmmakers from Iran and other countries. How much collaboration is already in place?

We are trying to establish contacts and partnerships between the Iranian film scene and abroad. At the moment there are already many co-productions with other countries, especially those in the region — for example Afghanistan, India, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Armenia and Turkey.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The history of jazz in Iran

Creating a confluence

Jazz made its way into Iran, along with a host of other foreign influences, during the 1960s. In the decade that followed, the music's exposure on Iranian radio helped it achieve a measure of popularity – until the Islamic Revolution came along, a social caesura that brought a long-term ban on secular music. 

by Bernd G.

Take a break for a coffee in Tehran's Museum of Modern Art today and you are quite likely to find yourself relaxing to the strains of Duke Ellington or Ella Fitzgerald. Both were popular favourites with the trendy aficionados of Iran's intellectual jazz scene back in the late 60s when jazz rhythms provided the musical pulse of the well-to-do summer resorts at Mazandaran on the Caspian Sea, such as the famous Motel Qoo hotel in Salman Shahr.

The word jazz – or "jaaz" as Iranians tend to pronounce it – was however initially subject to some misunderstanding. "Because the drum kit was seen as the main instrument in what for most Iranians was a novel style of music, there was a tendency initially to refer to any music that featured it as jazz," says Tehran music producer Ramin Sadighi. "One of the biggest Iranian pop stars of that time, Vigen, for example was dubbed the 'Sultan of Jazz', simply because his band featured a drummer."

Oil and the early jazz clubs

According to Sadighi, the story of jazz in Iran begins in the early 1960s: "The country's oil industry was booming at the time, especially in Khuzestan province in the south-west. Most of the oil extraction back then was done by British and American companies and the employees had their own clubs – in Ahwaz, Khorramshahr and Abadan, for example – where jazz music was played."

In an article published in the book "Jazz World/World Jazz" in 2017, the London-based musicologist and teacher Laudan Nooshin describes jazz as a minority interest in Iran in comparison to pop music, but also points out that Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made use of its growing popularity to further his aim of turning Iran into a secular state along Western capitalist lines.

'We go deeper': the artists spearheading the boom in Iranian art

Their works, which capture a different side of life in Iran, are shifting for vast sums. As the first gallery devoted to Iranian art opens in Britain, we go behind the scenes
‘A plea for peace’ … one of Fereydoon Omidi’s union jack series, on show at Sensation, the Cama Gallery show. Photograph: Courtesy the artist and the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

A giant canvas depicting the union jack overpowers the entrance to Cama Gallery in London. As you get closer to Fereydoon Omidi’s artwork, the Persian letters inscribed on the painting under the thick layers of red, white and blue become more visible.

Here, at the first gallery in London to be dedicated to Iranian art, Omidi’s multilayered calligraphy was, he said, “a plea for peace and cultural understanding”.

Ironically, due to visa issues, neither Omidi nor 18 other Iranian artists represented by the gallery in its inaugural show can make it to London for Thursday night’s opening. A stringent visa regime in the UK means real cultural exchanges rarely take place, despite the improvement in bilateral ties between London and Tehran.

But the artworks have, however, reached Britain’s shores. Reflecting huge western interest in the Iranian contemporary art market, most items in the gallery’s inaugural exhibition, named Sensation, had been purchased even before the gallery opened its doors to the public.

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat celebrates women in Islamic societies

The most successful Iranian woman photographer and filmmaker of her generation is back with a film about a legendary female Arab singer. Before the movie's summer release, Neshat dwells on her rootless artistic life.
Courtesy DW.
by Andrea Kasiske, Deutsche Welle

"I've been working on this film for seven years. And I think it's enough!" said New York-based Iranian director and photographer Shirin Neshat following a screening of her latest feature, "Looking for Oum Kulthum."

Oum Kulthum was a legendary Egyptian diva born in 1898 who is still revered for her extraordinary voice. But her persona had an impact far beyond the stage. As an Arab woman, Kulthum had to overcome severe gender inequality to become a star that continues to inspire millions of women more than 40 years after her death.

Neshat's biopic also has an autobiographical dimension in that it revolves around an Iranian woman artist who sets out to capture the life and art of the iconic singer.

The filmmaker premiered the work at the Venice Film Festival last September — she won the Silver Lion at Venice in 2009 for her first feature, "Women without Men" — and it will be released across Europe in the coming months. It has already been surprisingly well received in Egypt.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

“Song of a Captive Bird”

She Dared to Write Poetry About Sex. Iranians Loved and Hated Her for It.

The Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad died in a car accident in 1967, when she was 32.
by Dina Nayeri, The New York Times

“I take the first true measure of my body and decide that it’s shame, not sin, that’s unholy.” It’s 1955 Iran and Forugh Farrokhzad, a soon-to-be divorced mother, awakens to sex and art in Jasmin Darznik’s novel, “Song of a Captive Bird.” A few pages later, having begun an affair with a progressive Tehrani editor, Farrokhzad writes the poem that will make her both a symbol of female strength and a notorious “woman without shame,” as Persian mothers like to say. In it she confesses, “I’ve sinned a sin of pleasure / beside a body trembling and spent.” She doesn’t hide behind metaphor, and she isn’t the meek beloved of the old poems. She acts on her own desires. When she pines, it isn’t for a romantic savior but for a body. Tehran is scandalized.

Farrokhzad was Iran’s most celebrated — and controversial — female poet, and Darznik, the Iranian-born author of the memoir “The Good Daughter,” recreates her sexual and creative liberation while exploring the threat she posed to social order in prerevolutionary Iran. By the year of Farrokhzad’s debut, the “New Poetry” of Nima Yooshij and Ahmad Shamlou — both men — had made Iranian verse more accessible, freer in form and subject matter. But critics instantly denounced Farrokhzad as a silly girl, dismissing her work as an outgrowth of the national fascination with the hedonistic West, a trend Tehrani intellectuals called “Westoxification.”

Farrokhzad was defiant, in life and in Darznik’s fiction: “By writing in a woman’s voice I wanted to say that a woman, too, is a human being. To say that we, too, have the right to breathe, to cry out and to sing.” By the 1960s, she had come to represent Iran’s New Woman. At once loved and hated, she was a literary sensation and an acclaimed filmmaker, who demanded that female desires, expressed in plain language, be given the weight of serious literature. Male poets had been writing breathlessly about women for centuries — why should the reverse be any less palatable?

How did Iranian cinema go global?

The films of Iran's Amir Naderi brings the world to his homeland, while bringing his homeland to worldly recognition.
Monte (Mountain). 2016. Italy/France/USA. Directed by Amir Naderi. Courtesy of the filmmaker and MOMA,
by Hamid DabashiAl Jazeera

On Friday 16 March 2018, I had the distinct privilege of joining legendary Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi and Dave Kehr, the curator at the Department of Film, on stage at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York to launch a magnificent retrospective of his work.

Irresistible Forces, Immovable Objects: The Films of Amir Naderi begins with The Runner (1984), one of the last films he made in Iran and continues with the rest of his oeuvre that he directed in the US, Japan, and Europe.

This is not the first time the cinema of Naderi is celebrated in the US or anywhere else in the world. Over the last quarter century that I have known and been involved in his cinematic adventures, I have been a close witness to numerous similar celebrations in the US, Europe, and Japan, marking the unfolding thresholds of his unique and inimitable visionary artistry. 

How has Naderi navigated his illustrious cinematic career from a pioneering filmmaker in the rising moments of Iranian New Wave in the late 1960s up to such career celebrations around the world is the story of how Iranian cinema has transcended itself to become an unfolding drama in the course of world cinema. Naderi, just like his close friend and fellow luminary, the late Abba Kiarostami (1940-2016) - whom the world of cinema lost so tragically early - is no longer pigeonholed within any national cinema. He has, by the power of his singular imagination, assumed his unique signature.

How did that happen and what does it mean?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The conductor smashing Iranian taboos over women, and music

Nezhat Amiri’s recent high-profile performance caps a 38-year fight for recognition

Nezhat Amiri performing in Tehran’s Vahdat auditorium. Photograph: Alireza Ramezani/ Courtesy the Guardian.

In her 38-year career, which is as long as the history of the Islamic republic, Iran’s first and only female conductor had led as many public performances as the number of fingers that hold her baton.

Last month, however, Nezhat Amiri conducted a 71-member orchestra performing at Tehran’s most prestigious concert hall – a remarkable milestone in a country where it is considered taboo for state TV to show musical instruments, women are not allowed to sing solo and female musicians have been prevented from going on stage in provincial cities.

“From the beginning, I’ve swum against the current – I wasn’t seen, the society didn’t make any effort to nurture my skills and the ruling establishment turned its back on me,” Amiri, 57, told the Guardian. “But I’m still doing it, I’m showing that there are ways, and there will always be.”

Amiri’s performance, part of the annual state Fajr music festival, brought 55 musicians and a 16-member choir – with women making up almost half of both groups – on stage for two hours, to play three pieces by masters of Persian classical music, including a work by the legendary composer Morteza Hannaneh, for the first time.

The pull of the West

Electronic music band Schiller in Tehran

The German electronic music band Schiller is famous worldwide. Its recent visit to Tehran was without doubt one of the concert highlights of post-revolutionary Iran – even though some audience members began to show signs of fatigue halfway through the concert. 

Courtesy Qantara.

by Shahram

Schiller in Tehran: five concerts on five successive evenings in one week, playing for 20,000 people. The location: the large auditorium of the Interior Ministry of the Islamic Republic, at the heart of Iran's capital. The performances by this German electronic music band were one of the great musical highlights of the post-revolutionary era, not just for the Iranian audience. Such an (in some respects exotic) experience is undoubtedly rare for the musicians themselves too. Two concerts were originally planned, but tickets sold out in the space of two hours so three extra dates were added.

"Initial contact was made about a year or so ago," says Mehdi Kashi, who organised Schiller's concerts in Tehran. It was important to him, he explains, that the band could present their music in Tehran using the best equipment and most up-to-date technical standards, just as it would in Europe, especially in terms of lighting.

Well-known in Iran

Schiller, set to celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2019, is not unknown in Iran. The early albums and hits such as "I feel you" gained the band fans in Iran from the beginning of the 2000s on.

In the audience in Tehran is Ramin Behna, a well-known musician in the fusion/electronic genre. The mention of the name Schiller plunges Behna into nostalgia. At the Tehran shows, however, Schiller plays only more ambient instrumentals, dominated by gentle, atmospheric sounds.

Framing the dangerous nations

Book review: a ″Banthology″ of short stories

Born in a difficult space, this seven-story collection celebrates the work of prose artists from Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Iraq – the seven nations on Donald Trump′s January 2017 travel-ban diktat. 
Courtesy Qantara.
by Marcia Lynx

″Banthology. Stories from Unwanted Nations″, released in the UK in January and coming to the U.S. in March, manages to slip the frame′s trap, at least somewhat. It does so by coming straight at it: selecting stories that wittily, angrily and movingly write back against borders.

The stories were composed in three different languages – Italian, Arabic, and English – and unfold in markedly different styles, from Libyan novelist Najwa Binshatwan′s fantastical futurism, set in a town called Schroedinger; to Syrian writer Zaher Omareen′s bitter humour; to Iranian writer Fereshteh Molavi′s eerie mystical realism.


Two of the stories are set in a distant future: Binshatwan′s ″Return Ticket″ and Yemeni writer Wajdi al-Ahdal′s ″The Slow Man″. Binshatwan′s story, sharply translated by Sawad Hussain, takes place in a town called Schroedinger, an echo of the Austrian physicist. ″The name granted the village extraordinary powers; it could move through time and space, changing its orbit spontaneously as if it were the sun rising in one place and setting in another.″

Thus, the village allows its inhabitants to violate nature′s borders and boundaries – and life is always new. Yet, year after year, one thing remains the same in Schroedinger: its six U.S. tourists.

                             [T]hey stayed not out of love for the place, but because the walls of their own nation

                             never stopped rising, day after day, until it was cut off from the world and the world cut off from it.

                             Each attempt by an American tourist to scale the towering walls and return home proved fatal.

Schroedinger hovers over the U.S. twice a week, in an attempt to repatriate the six tourists′ bodies. This makes U.S. intelligence services suspicious and they suggest the villagers are trying to scale the walls, which have become so high that all one can see from outside is, ″the snuffed-out torch of the Statue of Liberty and her bird-shit-splattered crown.″

Goethe and Zoroastrianism

The eternal battle between good and evil

All his life Johann Wolfgang von Goethe felt a strong connection with Persia. Not only did he feel a spiritual affinity with the poet Hafez, he was also inspired and fascinated by the teachings and practices of Zarathustra, who lived in the first millennium before Christ.

Farvahar is the symbol of Zoroastrianism, a religion based on the teaching of the prophet Zarathustra which originated in what is now modern-day Iran. Courtesy Qantara.

Good and evil and the battle between these two opposites, have existed since time immemorial. Traced in age-old patterns, this cumulative conflict can be found in Augustine’s interpretation of history, the Hegelian dialectic and religious teachings such as Zoroastrianism.

This dualism poured forth from its sources of inspiration and flowed into the veins of the intellectual world: to this day it remains a powerful influence on writers and philosophers. So it is no surprise that Goethe, in his day, studied the teachings and practice of the ancient prophet Zarathustra and that in writing Faust’s cunning opponent, Mephistopheles, he was inspired by Ahriman, the evil spirit of the Avesta, the holy scripture of Zoroastrianism.

However, it is worth taking a look at Zoroastrian sacrifice, which also occurs in Goethe’s semantic fields and to ask whether ultimately, like Aristotle, Voltaire, Nietzsche and Kant, he too was influenced by the driving moral force of Zoroastrian teachings.

Nothing but taboos

German-Iranian director Ali Soozandeh says that he made the film "Tehran Taboo" in order to "break the silence". In doing so, however, he has sketched a portrait of Iran that is almost unbearable, especially for the critical viewer with a knowledge of Iran
Still from the animated film "Tehran Taboo" by German-Iranian director Ali Soozandeh. Courtesy Qantara.

After only a quarter of an hour of "Tehran Taboo", viewers will be terrified of the country where it is set, a place where everything seems to go criminally wrong. In the opening scene, a taxi driver haggles with a young woman over the price of a blowjob. Then her son watches impassively from the back seat as his mother performs oral sex. Next, the woman is seen in the office of a morose mullah, from whom she needs a signature to get a divorce from her drug-addict husband who has been behind bars for months. "I could use a woman," the mullah murmurs, hinting at how she might get his signature.

As if that were not yet enough, the next scene is set at an underground party, where a failing musician has hurried sex with a scantily clad woman in a shabby toilet cubicle. Then a sudden cut from this clumsy sex scene to a blue mosque, the call to prayer ringing out. The film's sequencing seems to harbour the subtle and incredibly naive message that the cubicle coitus is an expression of longed-for freedom, while the song from the mosque is the oppressive propaganda tune of a religion that steals that liberty.

Tehran is grey and desolate in the animated film "Tehran Taboo" by German-Iranian director Ali Soozandeh. Because it could not be filmed in Tehran, Soozandeh made use of the laborious rotoscope process. The first step was to shoot scenes with real actors in the studio. The background was then produced digitally and added to the scenes. Although altered, the characters remain realistic, and the street scenes are similar to real-life Tehran. A forty-strong team spent 13 months working on the project, which in itself is an impressive, labour-intensive feat.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

"Their audacity leaves me speechless"

Interview with the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar

Every year the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar holds a ceremony in Tehran to commemorate her parents′ murder by the regime. Accused of propaganda against the system, she′s now on trial herself – for artwork that the regime considers "insults the sacred". 
Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar (photo: picture-alliance/dpa). Courtesy Qantara.
Interview by Catrin

Ms Forouhar, you fly to Tehran every autumn to hold a memorial ceremony for your murdered parents. This year, your passport was confiscated as soon as you landed. Were you surprised?

Parastou Forouhar: I might have expected it; I′m being tried in Tehran this year. In the past, I have always had to attend a hearing on entering Iran. Usually at the intelligence ministry, sometimes with other organs that are also part of the security apparatus. They′d try to influence me – I′d be threatened, confronted with allegations I was stirring up counter-revolution.

Yet that was always related to the memorial event for your parents, who were murdered by the regime nearly twenty years ago.

Forouhar: Indeed. My parents were prominent opposition politicians, Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar. They were dissidents, secular democrats who campaigned for democratic structures in the Shah′s times and then later in the Islamic Republic. They were attacked on 22 November 1998 by 18 officers from the Islamic Republic′s ministry of intelligence, who brutally murdered them. And they were not the only ones: two wonderful writers, two activists, a poet and his son were also murdered at the same time. These crimes became known as the "chain murders". The public felt deeply violated; thousands of people attended my parents′ funeral – the figure reported by the BBC was 25,000. The funeral march turned into a protest for dissident rights.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Persian and Iranian Studies in Britain in the 1960s: A brief survey

Image courtesy of the British Council. 

Amid the shifting currents of Anglo-Iranian relations, there has been continued scholarly interest in the cultural history of Iran among British academics. Developments in the 1960s in particular have proven to have a lasting impact.

همزمان با اوج بی اعتمادی ایرانیان به بریتانیا بعد از کودتای شهریور بیست، چه شد که مطالعات ایران شناسی در دانشگاه های بریتانیا چنین اوج گرفت؟

by Aida Foroutan, Underline MagazineBritish Council

It is an understatement to say that the 1960s was an important phase in Iranian history, yet in terms of cultural relations between Iran and the United Kingdom, it was rather a quiet period. In art and culture generally, other areas of Europe were more obviously affected by Iranian influences – France, Germany and Italy, for example. The low points of Anglo-Iranian relations were, of course, the Abadan crisis of 1951-54, and the 1953 MI6-CIA-backed Coup and Prime Minister Mossadegh’s overthrow in August of that year. It took the rest of that decade for wounds to heal. In between, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made a state visit to the UK for a few days in May 1959. It was then less than two years before the Shah returned the compliment, welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to Iran in March 1961.

What needs pointing out among all these high profile crises and royal to-ings and fro-ings, is that there was ongoing interest in the UK towards Iran’s history and culture at the highest level of academia. This is evidenced by the quiet scholarly work and collaboration in academic research focusing on Iran – Iranian languages, texts, documents, artefacts of history and archaeology. This intense attention paid to everything Persian and Iranian is all the more surprising as Iran was never directly colonised by Britain, and drawn into its Empire, like India. One may ask: why was Iran the source of such fascination in Britain?

One of the keys to answering this question is the founding of the British Institute of Persian Studies in December 1961, just after Queen Elizabeth’s visit earlier that year. The foundation reflected rather than created an already existing long-term interest in Iranian and Persian studies: along with the physical Institute – located both in Tehran and London – a learned journal entitled IRAN: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, was inaugurated: it ‘was to make its field of interest the whole spectrum of Iran’s archaeology, history, and culture, from prehistory through ancient and Islamic Iran to modern times’. [1]

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Patchwork identities

Young Iranian women writers in Germany

In commanding language and without a trace of sentimentality or vanity, the second generation of Iranian women authors in Germany present the balancing act between Persian and German ways of life, weaving their parents′ lives into their literary material. 
Iranian author Nava Ebrahimi (photo: Katrin Ohlendorf). Courtesy Qantara. 
by Fahimeh

Three novels by Persian-speaking writers recently published in Germany were written by women: the authors Mehrnousch Zaeri-Esfahani, Nava Ebrahimi and Shida Bazyar. They are part of the second generation of Iranian diaspora writers, their parents having fled the country following the 1979 Islamic Revolution to end up – more or less by chance – in Germany.

With the exception of Shida Bazyar, who was born in Hermeskeil in 1988, the young storytellers came to Germany as children of politically persecuted parents during the 1980s. Initially exposed to linguistic isolation, mental exile and cultural confusion, they took to writing as adults to set down the stories of their hybrid identities. Their books, with the titles ″33 Arches and a Teahouse″ (Zaeri-Esfahani), ″Sixteen Words″ (Ebrahimi) and ″Tehran Is Quiet by Night″ (Bazyar) unambiguously indicate the source of their creativity, also linked to Iran′s recent history.

The three writers confront the ordeal of flight and their unwelcome arrival in Germany in the language in which they once woke from their nightmares as children, in which they now dream of a colourful life: German.

Existential issues

The issues these young Scheherezades tackle have a long tradition in the genre of migration literature. They are not radically different from the material the first generation covered. Those literary pioneers also constructed their works on the heritage of collapsing utopias of a generation that resisted the Shah and mullah regimes with great willpower, went into exile despondent and had to build a new existence abroad.

United by blood: Afghan artists come together for Iran exhibition

Tehran show challenges attitudes in country where community is grappling with marginalisation after escaping war

Barat Ali Batoor’s photographs focus on Afghanistan’s problem with Bacha bazi, the sexual abuse of young boys. Photograph: Barat Ali Batoor
by Saeed Kamali DehghanThe Guardian

Elyas Alavi’s performance piece at a Tehran exhibition showcasing contemporary Afghan artists invites participants to give blood. Samples are taken by a professional nurse and splashed on the wall next to each other.

The idea came to Alavi’s mind when his sister, one of at least 3 million Afghan refugees living in Iran, was blocked from getting a kidney transplant because she is a foreigner.

The Nimrouz exhibition – the first of its kind held in Iran and the largest for Afghan artists in at least four decades – is challenging Iranian society’s attitude towards its Afghan community, who have found sanctuary from war in their homeland but are grappling with marginalisation.

In recent years, as Iran propped up Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, it controversially recruited Afghan refugees to go to fight there, rewarding them with money and documentation.

“I want to call people’s attention to the injustices inflicted upon Afghan people living in Iran,” Alavi told the Guardian. “Afghans in Iran are legally unable to receive organ transplants or blood transfusions and yet, fight in the Syrian war for Iran.”

Mirrors everywhere

Reza's worldwide perspective

Reza: The Children Photographers. Afghanistan, 1985. Courtesy the artist and Pasatiempo.
by Paul Weideman, Pasatiempo

French-Iranian photojournalist Reza Deghati, who is known for his media training projects in strife-torn regions of the world, as well as for his stunning photographs, is in Santa Fe for several events. A selection of his photos shows in an exhibition that runs until Nov. 12, at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

The photographer, known as Reza, has made photographs in more than a hundred countries, including in war zones in Somalia and Afghanistan and in dangerous neighborhoods of large cities. He has long been a contributor to National Geographic, and his work is featured on many of its covers as well as in books; articles for Agence France-Presse, Time, and Newsweek; and National Geographic Channel documentary shows.

In 2001, he founded the nongovernmental organization Aina (in Farsi, the name means “mirror”) in Afghanistan. Through his Reza Visual Academy and Aina, he has worked in media training — especially for the benefit of women and children — around the world. A 2015 installation along the banks of the Seine titled A Dream of Humanity featured Reza’s portraits of refugees along with photos shot in Iraqi Kurdistan by refugee children who were trained in his academy program as “camp reporters.” He has also had photographic exhibitions at the United Nations in New York, at the European Parliament in Brussels, and at the headquarters of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) in Paris.

Reza’s recent work includes Exile Voices, a 2013-2017 project to train young Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan; a 2015 photography training program for young Maoris in New Zealand; and a 2017 photography workshop with orphans and displaced children in Bamako, Mali.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Sculpture for sale in New York illegally obtained from Iran?

Ancient Limestone Relief Is Seized at European Art Fair

A 1933 photograph of an excavation of the ruins of Persepolis in Iran. The bas-relief of a soldier that was seized at the art fair came from the ruins, according to a search warrant. Courtesy Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and The New York Times.

by James McKinley Jr., The New York Times

The European Fine Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory is an elegant event during which wealthy collectors browse through booths of stunning art pieces, from ancient sculptures to works by early 20th-century masters.

So it raised a few eyebrows on Friday afternoon (27 Oct., 2017) when two prosecutors and three police officers marched into the armory at 2 p.m. with stern expressions and a search warrant, witnesses said.

A few minutes later, cursing could be heard coming from a London dealer’s booth, breaking the quiet, reverential atmosphere. To the consternation of several art dealers looking on, the police and prosecutors seized an ancient limestone bas-relief of a Persian soldier with shield and spear, which once adorned a building in the ruins of Persepolis in Iran, according to a search warrant. The relief is worth about $1.2 million and was being offered for sale by Rupert Wace, a well-known dealer in antiquities in London.

In an statement, Mr. Wace said he had bought the relief from an insurance company, who had acquired it legally from a museum in Montreal, where it had been displayed since the 1950s.

“This work of art has been well known to scholars and has a history that spans almost 70 years,” Mr. Wace said in an email. “We are simply flabbergasted at what has occurred.”

Thursday, 26 October 2017

'A place where art can be art'

Selling the Porsche to Promote Iranian Art
The Argo Factory, a former Tehran brewery converted into a space to exhibit work by Iranian and foreign artists. The art in the exhibition on view in this and all the photos is by Slavs and Tatars, an art collective. Credit Arash Khamooshi. Courtesy The New York Times.
by Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times

The old brewery was a cockroach-infested ruin, a makeshift shelter for drug addicts in Tehran’s bustling downtown. Most people walked straight past it, a festering eyesore in a city dominated by high rises and building cranes.

But when Hamidreza Pejman, a sweatpants-wearing art lover with a mission to bring Iranian art to a global level, stumbled across the building he saw something else: a space to exhibit international art and build bridges between Iranian and foreign artists. “A place where art can be art,” he said, “no matter the costs.”

Mr. Pejman, 36, who once scrubbed toilets in London but got rich in construction in Iran, took out his checkbook and bought the brewery last year.

In the two years that his nonprofit Pejman Foundation has been active, he has not only bought loads of Iranian art, but also supported dozens of Iranian and foreign artists.

In fact, he says his love of art has become so pricey that he has been forced to cut back on other things. “I had to move in with my parents three months ago to save costs. I’m selling my Porsche,” he said, adding: “My goal is not to make any money from art. My goal is to free our art scene from the iron grip of money and get as many people to interact with art as possible.”

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Iranian Artists Picturing Their Cities

A gallery exhibit explores the urban public spaces of the Islamic Republic.
Behnam Sadighi's images show stark landscapes of a neighborhood in west Tehran. Courtesy of Hillyer Art Space/Behnam Sadighi and CityLab.
by Mimi KirkCityLab

Iran has experienced extraordinary political and economic transformation over the past four decades. From the 1979 Islamic Revolution to the democratic aspirations of the 2009 Green Movement to the 2016 nuclear deal with the U.S., the country has seen profound change, including in its cities.

“These developments have affected urban life, both for individuals and the collective,” says Gohar Dashti, a photographer who splits her time between Boston and Tehran. “These changes have also inspired artists.”

Dashti is the curator of an exhibition that provides a platform for this inspiration. Dubbed “Urban Mapping: Public Space Through the Lens of Contemporary Iranian Artists,” the show, hosted by the Washington, D.C., gallery Hillyer Art Space, features the photographs and videos of 10 artists whose work focuses on the urban.

Rana Javadi’s images of the revolution, for instance, show the commotion and dynamism of central Tehran during that period. In one photograph, a group of young women gather, arms raised in protest, on what is now known as Enghelab, or “Revolution,” Street. Pre-1979, it was named after Reza Shah, the shah of Iran from 1925 to 1941.

It’s Hard to Kill

Student uses photography to connect with her past 
Fatemeh Baigmoradi, It’s Hard to Kill #13. Courtesy the artist.
by Hannah EisenbergDailyLobo

When trying to move on from painful experiences, it can be tempting to imagine that old memories can simply burn, fall away into a harmless ash that leaves nothing more than a temporary residue on our minds.

This is not how memories work, though. Rather, they simmer through us. Our thoughts, patterns, actions, beliefs, our cultures and our histories exist not in an entirely progressive vacuum but in our connection to what was and who we have been.

It is this idea of the durability of memory, of living an authentic history, that UNM Master of Fine Arts candidate and photographer Fatemeh Baigmoradi explores in her thesis show, “It’s Hard to Kill.”

From late September to early October, “It’s Hard to Kill” was housed in the College of Fine Arts downtown gallery.

A large, painted red stripe flowed through the venue, and shelves lined the walls holding roughly 130 photographs of people living in the era before the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The frames showed women socializing around a car, couples vacationing, family meals, religious figures — a menagerie of early 1970s Iranian life.

These photographs, though, have all been burned. They are warped into new shapes with blackened edges and smoky holes, missing pieces of information.

A question of politics

Dubai-based Iranian artist Ramin Haerizadeh uses a variety of materials to investigate contemporary global issues such as identity, gender, intolerance and political power games
Ramin Haerizadeh, First Rain's Always a Surprise, 2012-17. Courtesy Gulf News.
by Jyoti Kalsi, Gulf News

Ramin Haerizadeh’s work is playful, absurd and profound. His latest show, To Be or Not To Be, That is the Question. And Though, it Troubles the Digestion, features collages on paper and canvas that seem to be chaotic, crazy assemblages of images and objects, which have no connection with each other. But there is a method to the madness. By excavating, manipulating and juxtaposing the debris of all the imagery that surrounds us, the Dubai-based Iranian artist wants to investigate contemporary global issues such as identity, gender, cultural intolerance, media manipulation, political power games, migration, displacement, the Western gaze, and hegemonic ethics.

The title of the show is extracted from the poem, Children of the Age, by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska. The poem says that we are all children of a political age, and there is a political slant to all the things we do and say or abstain from doing and saying. It points out that in this age, even things such as crude oil and protein feed have political meaning. Hence, our existence, and every decision we make is a question of politics.

“Regardless of what we say or don’t say, do or don’t do, we cannot help being political. As an artist working in this region, I feel that the very act of making art is political. My work emerges from my daily activities as I perform different roles and take on different identities. I do not believe in preserving my old artworks. When they come back from exhibitions across the world, I start reworking them. Like human beings, they keep changing and evolving with time, acquiring new layers of experiences, emotions and memories. In my collages, I put unrelated things, people and events together to pose questions about their relationship, and to give information and tell stories, leaving it up to each viewer to process and read it in their individual context,” the artist says.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

'Is it art or pain?' Iran's Parastou Forouhar on family, death and the failed revolution

Daughter of high-profile dissidents talks about how their murder nearly 20 years ago continues to inform her work
Parastou Forouhar says she finds ‘healing in repetition’ through her artwork. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and the Guardian.
by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian

Every autumn, the Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar returns to Tehran from Germany to hold a memorial service for her murdered parents.

Dariush Forouhar, a secular politician, and his wife, Parvaneh, were two of Iran’s most high-profile political activists when they were stabbed to death in their home on 22 November 1998. The killers placed her father’s body in a chair facing towards the Qibla, the direction of Mecca.

Forouhar, 55, remembers receiving a call from a BBC reporter asking when she had last spoken to her parents.

“I called a close friend of my parents in Paris and he was crying,” Forouhar says. “I thought, it mustn’t be just an arrest. We were used to [arrests]. I said, is Dad killed? He said, it’s not just your dad.”

Every year since, Parastou has gathered with close relatives to light a candle and pay tribute to her parents’ secular democratic values. The public are routinely blocked from attending by security officials.

“They won’t let people in for the ceremony [but] it gets media coverage and it becomes an act of protest,” says Forouhar, whose work was recently exhibited at Pi Artworks in London.

Forouhar says regularly revisiting the suffering she has endured for nearly 20 years has helped to heal the wounds of her past.

Colorful Verses

Ann Marie Fleming and Sandra Oh on Highlighting Iranian Poetry in Window Horses
A scene from Window Horses. Courtesy MovieMaker Magazine.
by Carlos AguilarMovieMaker Magazine

Intrinsically shaped by multiculturalism, Canadian director Ann Marie Fleming has amassed a body of work grounded in her curiosity to learn about cultures geographically distant from her own, but directly linked through a similar artistic spirit.

Set largely in Iran, Fleming’s debut animated feature Window Horses—which follows the more than 30 short films she’s made in the last three decades—is a delicately crafted and heartwarming ode to borderless connections between people via creativity, and a love letter to Iranian poetry.

The film had its U.S. premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival back in February, in the midst of the shameful Muslim travel ban, and First Pond Entertainment is releasing it theatrically in Los Angeles today, only five days after the White House announced that it would roll out new discriminatory measures against those traveling to the U.S. from a set of eight countries that includes Iran. In light of these unjust developments, Window Horses’ value as a gorgeous candy-colored piece of magical animation that aims to unite, as well as a subtle and non-political statement for the respect and appreciation of an ancient civilization, has doubled in importance.

This proudly female-centric production follows Rosie Ming, a Canadian girl of Chinese and Persian descent, who is a self-published young poet who has been invited to a poetry festival in Iran. Eager to be among other poets from around and the world, as well as learn about her father and his homeland, Rosie travels to the Middle Eastern nation. Fleming’s recurrent character and avatar, Stickgirl, becomes Rosie Ming in the film. Rosie is voiced by actress Sandra Oh, who serves as Executive Producer, and Academy Award-nominees Ellen Page and Shohreh Aghdashloo also lend their voice-acting skills to Window Horses.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

"The Music of Strangers": A quest for perfect harmony

The Silk Road Ensemble has been a leading force on the cross-cultural world music scene for almost twenty years. A new documentary – ″The Music of Strangers″ – tells the story of the project. 
The Silk Road Ensemble. Courtesy Qantara.
by Marian

The New York Times recently published a list of five outstanding examples of classical music with a political message. One of the pieces featured was "Silent City", a composition by the Iranian knee-violin (kamancheh) virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor, performed in the USA by the Silk Road Ensemble, a group Kalhor has been a member of for 20 years.

From the outset, the Silk Road Ensemble has presented music as a universal, immediately comprehensible language, an idea which for them is no mere platitude. The Ensemble is one of the most highly respected world music combos around and in recent years its musicians have become the exponents par excellence of the power of music to transcend cultural and political borders.

World class musicians

The project was the brainchild of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose idea it was to bring together world-class musicians from the great classical music traditions. The documentary "The Music of Strangers" reveals how he succeeded in transforming a diverse group of musicians into a world class ensemble.

Old footage traces the story, from Yo-Yo Ma's earliest performances as a child, to the first concerts by the Silk Road Ensemble. The extensively researched film gives audiences a privileged insight into the inner workings of this exceptional project. It all began in the year 2000, when Yo-Yo Ma invited sixty composers and musicians from the Silk Road countries, the cultural soul of Asia, to Massachusetts in the USA for them get to know one another. The journey that began there could well be described as a "search for perfect harmony" — and highly symbolic at a time when cultural misconceptions are all the rage.

The Line of March

Artist Pouran Jinchi on Inventorying War

Her current exhibition is on view in Dubai through October 21.
Pouran Jinchi, T Morse Code (2016). Courtesy of The Third Line.
by artnet Galleries Team, artnet News

Through quietly formal and exquisitely made work, Iranian artist Pouran Jinchi has assembled a bold exhibition that traces the lasting effects of war on contemporary society. With embroidery, sculpture, and metalwork, she explores military insignias and the pervasive power of symbols and language through her urgently coded messages.

Here, she discusses her current obsessions and how her background has shaped her practice. “The Line of the March” is on view at The Third Line in Dubai now through October 21.

Can you tell us about your process?

My art always begins with an idea, something gets triggered in my mind. I become focused entirely on this particular subject; it’s as though my brain edits out other things. My vision becomes myopic and as I do research on a given subject, I take it all in.

For my latest exhibit, The Line of March, I focused on militarism and I started to see its influence everywhere—online, in fashion, in films. I started to listen to brass bands, marching bands. I noticed the way military terms inflect our slang, how it penetrates popular TV shows, video games, even our food. When I am making art on a particular subject, my brain shuts out all other distractions. The process of making my work is physically demanding since so many details go into my work. I find long walks through NYC are the best form of stretching my body and relaxing my mind.

Go West

Farhad Moshiri, Dubbed ‘the Middle East’s Andy Warhol,’ Gets First Major U.S. Exhibition

A selection of the pop artist’s significant works will be displayed, fittingly, at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh
Farhad Moshiri, Yipeeee, 2009, private collection, London (Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli). Courtesy  
by Brigit

The work of Farhad Moshiri is often sparkly, glittery and unabashedly tacky. Inspired by the pop art movement, the Iranian artist has deployed sequins, crystals, beads, keychains and postcards to create vibrant, winking images that explore the quotidian preferences of American and Iranian culture. And so it seems fitting that Moshiri’s first major solo exhibition in the United States will take place in an institution devoted to the king of pop art: the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

As Gareth Harris reports for the Art Newspaper, “Farhad Moshiri: Go West” will showcase 33 of the artist’s significant works, many of which are being shown in the United States for the first time. The exhibition will reflect the diversity of Moshiri’s oeuvre, showcasing his embroideries, paintings and sculptures.

Born in 1963 in the city of Shiraz, Moshiri and his family relocated to California in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, according to a 2010 profile by Negar Azimi for The National. Moshiri graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and in 1991, he decided to move back to Iran. He rose to prominence on the Iranian contemporary art scene in the early 2000s, after he premiered a series of large oil paintings of antique ceramics, with Farsi calligraphy superimposed on their cracked surfaces.

“For Moshiri, the use of calligraphy references the pop calligraphy movement of the 1960s, which flourished under Empress Farah Pahlavi,” Elaine W. Ng writes in ArtAsiaPacific magazine.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

“Crossing Borders” exhibit touches on immigration issues

Ten artists with diverse backgrounds come together to show their works
Saman Sajasi, "Glory", 2013. Courtesy Periphery Space Gallery.
by Alexander Castro, Providence Journal

Any keys in your pockets? How about loose change? Are you wearing a belt?

You needn’t plunk your belongings in a gray plastic tray to enter “Crossing Borders” — a carefully curated exhibit showing at Periphery Space Gallery in Pawtucket through Oct. 14. But you will have to pass through a metal detector, an experience courtesy of Los Angeles-based Camilo Cruz, who’s installed one of the metallic sentries at the gallery’s entryway.

Cruz joins nine other artists in “Crossing Borders,” a group affair orchestrated by curators Judith Tolnick Champa and Jocelyn Foye. The pair began contemplating and assembling the show nearly eight months ago as an investigation of “dual identities, dual coasts, dual personalities,” according to Foye. With the Trump administration’s recent push to eliminate the DACA program, imperiling thousands of undocumented young adults, Foye sees the venture as an even more timely comment on immigration.

But the show is not a battering ram of polemic. Says Champa: “Hopefully it’s subtle. I think it is.”

The sophistication of the art seems to agree. This is a show you might expect of Providence’s academic galleries and, appropriately enough, the show will travel to Brown University this fall.

Cruz’s spatial cleverness is one instance of several. Mumbai artist Poonam Jain will likely elicit many a double-take, having outfitted a slab of the gallery’s wall with door hardware like deadbolts, locks and coat hooks. Is she keeping something out, or holding the audience captive?

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Exclusive Visit to the Studio of Iranian-American Artist Farzad Kohan

Located in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Farzad Kohan’s studio is filled with a mix of interesting fabrics and vibrant paints
Installation view of an artwork by Farzad Kohan. Photography by Stephen O'Bryan. Courtesy Harper's Bazaar Arabia.
by Maymanah Farhat, Harper's Bazaar Arabia

In the courtyard garden that leads to Farzad Kohan’s studio, small, contorted figures crouch and leap among citrus trees and pomegranate shrubs. As we walk across a concrete patio towards the converted cottage, Kohan confides that the ceramic sculptures remind him of the beginning of his career over 20 years ago.

It is a warm summer day in the Los Angeles suburb where the Iranian-American artist lives and works. The hot weather has withered a rose bush that grows taller than the roof of his studio. When I stop to admire it, he says, “It’s as old as Roz,” referring to his sunny teenage daughter, who grew up visiting his workspace. Kohan opens the door and motions me to step inside.

To the right of the entrance is a wall covered with the outlines of works that were once in progress as well as endless drips of paint. Today, the patinated surface displays a large piece containing vertical seams and fringe-like strips of canvas—an arrangement that is reminiscent of a Moroccan wedding blanket. The background is grey, painted in washes while the shredded canvas is left raw and attached with small knots, hanging loosely from the stitched base. These knots recall the scroll-like talismans that are inscribed with prayers or wishes and then placed in Muslim shrines. I notice a similar use of string in an abstract sculpture that sits among rolled canvases nearby and wonder if the artist is revisiting certain concepts in search of something new. Hanging on an adjacent wall are handwritten notes tied to wooden posts: makeshift amulets that hold self-reflective messages.

As we stand in front of the cut and assembled painting, I ask Kohan if it refers to something specific. ‘It’s not specific, it’s experimental, I am recycling old works,’ he responds. “The text of the painting says ‘Go Crazy,’” he explains. “I painted it six months ago but recently tore it apart and put it back together, and then added the knots. Now the text is unreadable since it has been cut and glued in a different way.” Looking closely, I see remnants of Farsi script, indicating the title of an earlier composition. As I examine its textures, Kohan adds, “I worked many hours to make the original painting, only to cut it into pieces. It’s all about letting go, and in the process I find things that I think are important to keep. For me, the work is getting closer to life itself.”

Jazz in Iran through the Decades

A Duke Ellington concert ticket in Abadan, Iran in 1963. Courtesy Ajam Media Collective.

by Kamyar JarahzadehAjam Media Collective

The history of Iranian jazz is difficult to write, despite the country’s many collisions with the genre and its major acts. Iran has generated its share of jazz acts, yet also holds a special place in jazz history for the inspiration it has served to many of the genre’s greats. This mix is an attempt to capture those two elements of Iran’s jazz history: Iran as a site of inspiration for foreign jazz artists, as well as a cultural sphere from which jazz is produced.

The relationship between jazz and Iran began when the Pahlavi monarchy extended invitations to many Western musicians to visit in an attempt to bring so-called “high culture” to the country. As part of this opportunity, in the 1950s many jazz performers such as Duke Ellington came from the United States as a part of State Department sponsored diplomatic tours in which jazz musicians were sent to perform in various countries all the way from Turkey to Sri Lanka as a way to spread American influence. Ellington even famously dedicated a composition to the city of Isfahan, featured on this mix. Interestingly, many jazz artists stopped in oil-rich cities that were home to many expats, suggesting that there was likely very little of an audience for jazz beyond the Western-minded elite and expatriate community.

Around the same time, Iran began generating its own jazz acts, arguably beginning with Viguen in the 1950s and 1960s, who is occasionally referred to as the “Sultan of Iranian Jazz.” Legend has it that Viguen was inspired to introduce the guitar to Iranian music when he heard Russian soldiers playing it in the short-lived Azerbaijan People’s Government, a Soviet-occupied breakaway state in northwestern Iran from 1945-1946.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Raving Iran

 The promoter/DJs risking their lives to party 

Courtesy Mixmag. 
by Andy BuchanMixmag

Most promoters have pretty mundane problems. Which DJ to book, maybe, or how best to pacify a venue owner, or which bills they can get away with not paying. Iranian promoters have more pressing issues... like whether they would actually survive the sentence if they are caught putting on a party, or whether they have bribed a cop quite enough to allow them to dance until dawn in the Iranian desert. Iran is a country where, just recently, six music fans were given 91 lashes each for the criminal offence of singing along to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to do, and of course illegal. We haven’t been back to Iran since,” say Beard and Blade, or Anoosh and Arash as they’re now known to the authorities. Last year they featured in a documentary about their experiences as promoters inside Iran, and they’re presently touring Europe as DJs – including an appearance at Tomorrowland.

“The outdoor parties in the desert or mountains are super secret and hidden far away, in the middle of nowhere,” confirms documentary director Susanne Regina Meures. “You need to rent equipment, find a bus with a driver who is happy to bypass police stops, bribe local officials and authorities, and ultimately, find friends who are brave enough to party under such circumstances. It’s not an easy task.”

In essence, there is no club scene in Iran. Music, plays, films, novels – virtually anything artistic - must first receive authorisation and approval from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Music producers Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian were recently sentenced to six years in prison for“propaganda against the state” – or making underground music with their mates, to you and me. And there’s rapper/singer/songwriter Amir Tataloo with his 3.5 million Instagram followers, who was sentenced to five years and 71 lashes for “spreading Western immorality”. And the students busted by the police for having a house party and fined 99 lashes.

Friday, 25 August 2017

“We Carry Home within Us”

A Conversation with Laleh Khadivi & Sholeh Wolpé

Left to Right: Laleh Khadivi, Sholeh Wolpé, and Persis Karim joined around Karim’s kitchen table to discuss their contributions to Iranian diaspora literature. Courtesy World Literature Today.
by Persis KarimWorld Literature Today

Persis Karim, a poet and the editor of three anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature, is the Neda Nobari Chair of the newly established Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University. In her new position, Karim is in the unique position to provide institutional recognition for the emerging field of Iranian diaspora studies—an extension of her long career of editing and promoting Iranian American literature and curating articles and anthologies of writers of Iranian origin. She sat down with novelist Laleh Khadivi and poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé to speak about their contributions to Iranian diaspora literature and the ways that the literature of Iranian Americans is reshaping our perceptions of Iran and the diaspora.

Persis Karim: It’s great to have you in my kitchen in Berkeley for this informal conversation.

Sholeh Wolpé: Thank you for the delicious Persian lunch. You make a great herb kookoo. Perhaps you can include the recipe for WLT’s readers.

Karim: Maybe I will! But first, tell us how each of you came to writing?

Laleh Khadivi: I came to writing late, after being a filmmaker and after dropping out of medical school. I was twenty-three when I decided to try my hand at fiction. I started writing stories that came from the generation before me (my grandparents). I wanted to know who my grandparents were. By the time I was done writing the story, it had very little to do with them. It was just a portal. I had interviewed my aunts and uncles, but almost all the stories varied; they all said contradictory things. But the things they did say about the place, the atmosphere, about western Iran, and Kermanshah, those did agree. And that was very useful. And when I wanted to write the story of the protagonist, I did historical research.

Wolpé: How did you get the truth out of your relatives? There is a concept of ab-roo in Iranian culture—saving face. It is hard to get people to speak openly and honestly.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Music in Rouhani′s Iran: A change in tune?

During President Rouhani′s first term in office, musicians began to gain greater freedom in Iran. Now, they′re hoping for further alleviations for their work after Rouhani′s re-election. To date, however, musical performances have been subject to much uncertainty and even traditional religious music is a thorn in the side of hardliners. 
Officially female bands may now perform, albeit only in front of all-female audiences. Courtesy ISNA and Qantara.
by Nahid

Scholars of Islamic law disagree on how to judge music and that controversy is reflected in Iranian politics. While moderate and reform-oriented forces close to the president allow concerts, the hardliners try to prevent musical performances through all means at their disposal. Yet they too know that the Iranians don′t want to go without music – so they use it for their own purposes wherever possible.

″The Ahmadinejad era was a big shock for Iranian music,″ admits composer Karen Keyhani. ″The state broadcaster still takes a negative stance towards music. At the same time, any musical activity in Iran is related to major uncertainties due to the sustained restrictions. ″ Iran′s state broadcasting company is dominated by ultra-conservatives.

Restrictions, disruptions or even bans of concerts have become a matter of course in Iran, Keyhani regrets. ″There are groupings who won′t even tolerate religious songs by Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, the maestro of traditional vocals.″ No wonder then that many Iranian musicians have turned their backs on the country over the past few years. Keyhani himself has performed in various countries such as Switzerland, Italy and the USA.

The chairman of the Iranian non-governmental organisation Khaneye Moussighi (House of Music), which represents musicians′ interests in the country, described the situation in an interview with the ILNA news agency in early June: ″When it comes to music, it′s as though we′re living in a feudal country. Someone is constantly flexing their muscles and acting as they please. It not only threatens artists′ existence, it taxes their mental health.″

In Serbian Refugee Center, a ‘Little Picasso’ Dreams of Art and Asylum

Farhad Nouri, second from right, who is nicknamed Little Picasso, with his family in a refugee center in Krnjaca, Serbia. Photo by Marko Risovic, courtesy The New York Times.
by Matthew Brunwasser, The New York Times

In a shabby refugee center on the outskirts of Belgrade, an Afghan artist nicknamed Little Picasso spends his days sketching and dreaming while living in limbo, seemingly immune to the deepening sense of hopelessness and despair all around him.

The artist, Farhad Nouri, a 10-year-old boy who lives with his parents and two younger brothers in a small room at a former Yugoslav military barracks that houses more than 600 migrants and refugees, has been celebrated in Serbia and beyond. Fans speak of his extraordinary artistic ability. He had his first exhibition this month, organized by the Refugees Foundation, a group based in Belgrade.

But the story of Farhad — a smart, lanky boy with and a quick smile — is more than an unexpected bright spot in grim circumstances. It shines a light on forgotten asylum seekers and suggests the untold potential lost among migrants stranded along the Balkan route to Western Europe.

“Farhad is such a striking example of all the talent and human potential that is being wasted and put on hold among these thousands of people who are stranded,” said Elinor Raikes, the European regional director of the International Rescue Committee.

“You can’t overestimate the extent to which having zero control and zero ownership over your own future will affect your psychosocial well being,” she said.

The Nouris are among the 4,700 asylum seekers who the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates are living in Serbia. While Europe offers no clear avenues for asylum seekers to find a future in the West, the Balkan governments are still largely treating them as temporary residents.