Love Sent to Iran

Bri Olson in Meydaneh Azadi


Bri Olson in Tehran - photo by Michael Pope


Bri Olson is an American artist who wrote about her project, Send Love to Iran, on Pars Arts several months ago. She was recently able to achieve her goal of visiting and seeing the real Iran. Here’s what she saw:

After a year or so of saving up and several months biting my finger nails while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered my visa request, I flew, arm-in-arm with my better half, to Tehran to experience Iran firsthand. Having only a general idea of what to expect, Michael and I felt a bit like we were exploring uncharted territory when we stepped off our Emirates plane at Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Two years ago, I never would have considered that Tehran might have a contemporary art scene worth mentioning, until my new Iranian friend Raam (of rock band Hypernova) started to tell me stories of the “real” Iran: Basement shows, desert festivals, and private parties that gave artists and socialites outlets to express themselves. Cut to: Me; covered in hijab, guidebook in hand and ready to see for myself a world whose media and images are filtered by both U.S. and Iranian governments. 

Owing to Persian hospitality and our unique foreign status, we were given the diplomatic treatment for the entirety of our stay. Though our time was limited, I’m particularly pleased with the spectrum of artists and curators we were able to meet and the ground we were able to cover. For the sake of brevity, I’ll give you the short short-list. 

The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
The Tehran MoCA is definitively an “institution,” therefore subject to governmental supervision (after the revolution, Dali, Picasso, Warhol and others where relegated to the basement) and bureaucracy. That said, it’s always telling to see what sort of creative things the humans on the inside can do to keep people in their wings. When we went to meet with the International Director, they were showing works from instructors at Tehran’s art schools. The place was full, a testament to how much art education is happening in the city. After touring the museum, my favorite find was actually a Magritte’s Le Therapeute, a sculpture from their permanent collection – ironically, it’s neither Iranian nor contemporary. 
Vahid Sharifian, Art Star
I first saw Vahid at an opening at Artist’s Forum (Khaneh-ye honarmandan). He and his posse, looked like they were lifted right out of the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (is there such thing as Iranian Apparel?) and I tried to sneak a candid picture of them (unsuccessfully, when I reviewed the snapshot – it was clear they were all posing for me). The next time we ran into him was at Silk Road Gallery – a worth-the-search photography gallery in North Tehran – and from there we spent over an hour in a taxi to see his current solo exhibition at Ave Gallery. The show, entitled “My father is a democrat and through his chimney there are always hearts flying to the sky,” was a collection of holographic prints, an unveiled Sophia Loren in a series of instructional cooking poses. He even showed us the two prints the gallery wouldn’t hang (showing too much sternum), and I delighted in how tame they seemed compared to most things I’d find in a Manhattan gallery. Vahid is so clearly Lower East Side material but for now can’t leave the country, owing to his refusal to serve in the military. 

Pariyoush Ganji, Painter and Lecturer, Tehran University
Whereas Vahid is very much “new school,” Pariyoush is clearly “old school.” The instant I stepped into her home studio was the first time I truly relaxed while in Tehran, and in no other meeting did I feel the power of the moment so intimately. At 63, her matriarchal presence was soothing and we sipped tea surrounded by the traded works of her contemporaries. 

Guts // Pariyoush in Tehran from brianna olson on Vimeo.

Pariyoush studied painting in Tehran and across Europe in the 1960s, where students witnessed Che Guevara’s revolution, resisted the Shah, and constantly debated and studied political ideas. It was no wonder then, that she expressed concern to me that her students at Tehran University today are void of philosophy, and saw that lack in the exhibitions they held. We discussed the absolute importance of my generation and she lauded me for my willingness to take risks and “move through narrow doors.” By the end of our lunch, it was clear that I had made almost as much of an impression on her as she had on me – score one for an American girl in Tehran.

Amirali Ghasemi, Curator, Biennial Tehran
Amirali Ghasemi founded the 1st International Roaming Biennial of Tehran with Serhat Koksal because, he says, “It seems impossible to have a proper Tehran biennial in Tehran,” and with so much talent (their roster includes something like 300+ artists) it’s no wonder Ghasemi wants to take his exhibition on the road. Their first stop (opening late last May) was Istanbul, and they are slated to open in Berlin this November and continue through 2010 [Ed. note: Bri was invited to be part of the Berlin show!]. His concept of an “independent, low-budget, traveling exhibition” able to be carried “on any cheap flight” makes him the winner of my admiration and someone you should keep an eye on as a defining member of Tehran’s contemporary art scene.

More about Bri’s trip:

Send Love to Iran: From the US to Iran and back again – an introduction

Editor’s Note: Bri Olson is an American artist who wants to go to Iran. See the video above and her words below for more on her reasons for this project, which is called “Send Love to Iran.” She’ll be writing about her journey here on Pars Arts. To support her, see the project’s website and add her on MySpace. Check back for updates on Bri’s progress, and please send this post to your friends.

The seed that sprouted as the project affectionately dubbed “Send Love to Iran” was planted on September 11, 2006 at “Ground Zero,” the site of the World Trade Center attacks. Five years prior marked the genesis of a new era in the United States of America, a country I’ve always called home.

With such an important anniversary looming, and the continuing chaotic signals sent to and from this country, I felt compelled to communicate something I knew to be true. I took a sign that read “Unconditional Love is Global Security” and stood amidst the protesters, mourners, and commuters. I said nothing, but left myself open to any and all communication. One of the first experiences I had involved an affluent white couple that decided to confront my cardboard and me. “I wish you were in Tehran, with your sign.” the woman said. She continued to insist that I take the sign to Tehran and concluded with “see what love you felt over there”. While others had allowed my sign to be a celebration of unity, this woman had turned it into protest. Between me, my sign, this woman and her indignation we managed to underscore some fundamental discordance amongst the population as a whole.

The most notable thing about this woman was her repeated mention of Iran. This was apparently the first country that came to her mind with mention of global security. Now, I made an educated guess and assumed that the root of her indignation had something to do with the government. But what were the other factors that implanted such anger inside this woman? How much did this woman know about Iran? Had she traveled there? If not, where is she getting her information? More importantly, is there some girl in Tehran at this very moment having her ideals berated because someone feels the same towards the United States or, say, Israel? Suddenly I wanted very badly to let this woman know what love I felt ‘over there’ in Tehran.

So blossoms this project. I’m drawn to creators and creations and I’ve had the fortune of being surrounded by artists the majority of my adult life. To me, artists carry the visions that create the future, and my passion is facilitating the creation of that future. So that is whom this project engages, people who can resonate with the idea of taking the beauty from the minds eye, and projecting it into the world.

Thanks to the Internet, I’ve been in touch with a handful of Iranians, Americans, and bi-cultural hyphenates. Many of them are artists wanting to bring their work to a new forum. This project creates a new forum, collectively exhibiting their labors of love, and highlighting their visions. This project includes traveling to Iran to engage with these artists and bringing the experience to life via the internet. I intend to do just that, in celebration of the invisible bond between us.

While this project begins with Iran, in the end, I’d like to see members of the two nations set an example for the rest of the world. It’s far too easy, lazy even, to dismiss the idea that “Unconditional Love is Global Security.” It would be fair to say that it will require an open mind and an open heart, hard work, patience, and the ability to look towards something other than blame.

The three main ingredients in realizing this project are:

1. Like-minded earthlings, including people living in Iran
2. Money, a minimum of $5000, to sponsor flights, shipping, media, and maintaining a web presence
3. An entry visa, the proverbial golden ticket.

What’s been attained thus far:
1. Like-minded earthlings. Check! Bunches! And let’s keep ‘em coming.

2. Money. Working on it. I’m constantly looking for new fundraising ideas that incorporate artists. We’ve had a benefit concert with Iranian rock band Hypernova and Boston’s superstar Amanda Palmer. We’ve just sold out of our first batch of “Unconditional Love is Global Security” t-shirts. And shortly there will be rock n’ roll photos available from a (stellar) live photographer based out of New Jersey.

3, The magical Visa. I look forward to chronicling this adventure for Pars Arts. The first step is obtaining an official ‘Letter of Invitation’ from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is often done by a travel agency and Americans are usually required to adhere to a strict travel itinerary, but given this project’s unique situation, I’m working to avoid or adapt these requirements.