Follow-up: “Wishes and Dreams” Exhibition

A follow-up to last week’s post about the new Iranian art exhibit in Washington, D.C.:

The U.S. Department of State posted a video of Secretary Rice’s visit to the opening of the exhibit at the Meridian International Center. Included are her brief remarks to reporters, as well as a clip of her quick walk through the exhibit. Footage of her walk-through, as well as some stills at the end of the video, provides viewers with a look at some of the art on display.

[Video credit: US Dept of State. Transcript of the remarks can be found here.]

Exhibition: Wishes and Dreams

Condoleezza Rice at Wishes and Dreams
More than thirty young Iranian artists’ work went on display today in Washington, D.C., as part of “Wishes and Dreams: Iran’s New Generation Emerges”. The exhibition is a joint project between the Tehran University Art Gallery and the Meridian International Center, where it will be on display until July 29th.

The show is already receiving international attention: most major media sources covered the event, and the BBC featured the exhibition in their daily ‘In Pictures’ online feature.

Political undercurrents surfaced today as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended the opening and met with 14 of the artists who are visiting from Iran. The Guardian reports that ten of the artists turned down a chance to be photographed with Rice, and that a large throng of journalists were closely watching Rice in an effort to pickup clues on the administration’s current stance on US-Iranian ties.

Clearly, however, the exhibition itself is an attempt to look beyond US-Iranian tensions and underscore the fundamental commonality and understanding between Americans and Iranians. Meridian press release stated that:

The 30 artists in this exhibition reflect Iran’s large young population—the generation of tomorrow. Their art is an example of what galleries in Tehran are actively showing in exhibitions that open weekly. Much of their art is about dreams of their own past and their historic heritage, its symbols and beliefs; it expresses their strong desire to preserve their past, as well as their concern for the future.

Washington D.C. readers can find directions to the Meridian galleries here — and hopefully will report back what they saw on Pars Arts in the near future.

[Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite - AP]

May Day in Tehran

As thousands of Iranians gathered in protest in Tehran this May Day, the usually stodgy, anti-union Wall Street Journal editorial staff was full of support.

The night before May Day, the WSJ editorial [subscription required] reported that over 80 illegal unions, bound together as the “Workers’ Organizations and Activists Coordination Council”, were organizing to protest decreasing worker’s rights in Iran. School teachers were also planning to protest, despite the beatings protesters received at a demonstration last March. The BBC reported that an increasing number of state and private employees weren’t being paid the salaries owed to them by their employers. The leader of the Tehran bus workers’ union, Mansour Osanloo, was tortured and lost part of his tongue after bus workers protested last year.

The Wall Street Journal acknowledged their atypical position, but partially justified this by alluding to an “Iranian threat”:

We do not often find ourselves on the same side as the AFL-CIO, but American unions have for decades supported people like Mr. Osanloo — and, before him, others like Lech Walesa — through the Solidarity Center, which is engaged in labor-rights issues from Zimbabwe to Iran to China. That’s a reminder that when it comes to such basic and universal issues as the freedom of association, partisanship really can end at the water’s edge. In the face of the Iranian threat — to its own people no less than to its neighbors — that’s exactly the kind of May Day solidarity we need.

While precise turn-out numbers aren’t known, it is clear that thousands of Iranians protested on Tuesday and that there were some clashes with police, though the prominent Western news sources have yet to report on the outcome.

Gilaneh

I happened upon Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Mohsen Abdolvahab’s film Gilaneh when it was part of the Walker Art Center’s annual Women With Vision film festival last year. What I had hoped for was a film that would teach me something about contemporary Iran; what I found was a film that refused to fit into any of the neat, reductionist buckets of “Middle Eastern-ness” as is so often represented in today’s post-9/11 mainstream American discourse. I may have subconsciously expected to see the story of an archetypal Middle Eastern woman struggling against an oppressive, male-dominated Muslim regime. But instead I was forcefully pulled deep into the emotional core of a woman bearing the burden of love and care for a family torn apart by nationalist ideology, war, and poverty. We watch Gilaneh (played poignantly by Fatemeh Motamed Arya, who was also in a 2005 film by Bahman Farmanara, Yek Boos-e Koochooloo, or “A Little Kiss”) stoically negotiate those she loves through the effects of chemical weapons, trauma, and pregnancy, all the while navigating the obstacles of unstable phone connections, a distant hospital, and the impatient customers of her roadside stand.

The first half of the film takes place during the peak of Iran’s war with Iraq and follows Gilaneh as she watches her son, Ismaeel, leave for war, and helps her panic-stricken pregnant daughter, Maygol, search for her deserting military husband. Even more arresting, though, is the second half, set 15 years later after her son has returned from the war suffering from the ghastly, debilitating effects of chemical weapons. Gilaneh, now older and curled over with arthritis, carries Ismaeel on her back to bring him into the afternoon sunlight – a gesture more blatantly heroic that any scene from a contemporary war film – before she stands in her kitchen and humbly, expertly, prepares a meal from her meager supplies.

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad creates such a personal relationship between Gilaneh and the audience that we forget about the walls of nationality, wealth, and religion that so often distance us. I shuddered when I realized that in the background news reports flickering on the television in the living room in which Ismaeel now lies recumbent, American troops had seamlessly replaced Iranian troops in the fight against the Iraqis. All at once it became clear that Gilaneh’s lonely fight to persevere had not as much to do with Iranian identity or religion, but rather represented the perpetual, overarching transnational power struggles that continue unrelentingly to tear mother from son and mother from daughter everywhere in the world.

“Gilaneh” should not be missed, and unfortunately Bani-Etemad’s films are generally difficult to hunt down in the US – a DVD version of Gilaneh has not yet been released in the States and film screenings are still rare. Her other, better-known films include Zir-e Poost-e Shahr (“Under the Skin of the City,” 2001) and Rusari Abi (“The Blue-Veiled,” 1995). Just last year, she and Mohsen Abdolvahab collaborated again on Mainline (“Khoon Bazi”), a film about drug addiction.

Our readers in England should know that an upcoming conference and festival entitled War in Iranian Cinema (organized jointly by the Iran Heritage Foundation and London’s Barbican Centre) will be featuring “Gilaneh” as part of what looks to be a provocative program. Book now for the screening on February 22, and stay tuned to Pars Arts for future opportunities to catch Bani-Etemad’s films on the big screen.