IAAB Conference Panel 5: Going Home: Tales of Return and Departure

This panel is about Iranians who grew up outside Iran but returned for their work or art.

Ali Ghezelbash, Strategic and Political Advisor, Norsk Hydro
Having the Best of Both Worlds—how returning home changed my perspective
Having spent the past two days here, I’ve never been as proud to be an Iranian. Since leaving Iran, I’d had a keen interest in history. I wanted to gain an understanding of the culture and people. I returned to Iran in 2003 and was offered a job with Atieh Bahar consulting. I had to sort out military conscription. I also had to convince my parents in Sweden that being a political analyst in Iran was a good idea. What lay ahead was to take on my responsibilities. Other than my poli sci degree, I had no real experience. I thought I understood Iran but I needed to know a lot more. Most of the people I was supposed to manage were more experienced and older. Respect for pride and seniority was very important in Iran and I understood early on, I had to put aside my own ego, be patient, and be highly respectful. This was a metaphor for my own role in Iran’s development: patience, respect, and listening. I realized that staying just for a year, as was initially agreed, was not enough. I felt I had to stay on another year.

When I arrived in Iran, I was so concerned that I would be perceived as too liberal so when I got there I was very conserative. I had to deal with a lot of other downsides and upsides in deciding to stay. But I decided to stay. In 2005 I moved out on my own, and at the end of 2006, I decided to leave in order to again broaden my horizon.

I’d begun feeling that perhaps it was not possible to have the best of both worlds, and that if I chose Iran, I would lose the other side. But I’d connected with Iran, and so when I went back to Europe, it was difficult for me to readjust.

Now I don’t think I have to choose between Iranian or Swedish. Before I had a conflicting identity. I feel much more comfortable with my identity now; and I feel I can have the best of all the worlds I’ve been in. Also, I learned to appreciate the sacrifices of my parents for the opportunities I had. At the same time, I felt it’s important for people like us to return to Iran. We all need to give something back to our country. I realized that I was not there to preach to people, but there is a bit of a brain drain, and we can help that. I also realized that Iran is going through an evolutionary process; the pace of social and political change must be set by the Iranian people.

Most of us have the luxury of visiting Iran and going back and forth. This is an ability we should take advantage of. We have a blood-right to that country. It belongs to us all. Our advantage is that we can have the best of both worlds.

Tahereh Sariban, Atieh Bahar Consulting
Roots and Homes: choices and responsibilities
Tahereh Sariban was not able to attend the conference because of visa problems. She was going to discuss how her multicultural background has influenced her concept of roots and home.

Hushidar Mortezaie, Designer
THE NEW LOOK: The New Iranian Aesthetic
I left Iran when I was three and grew up in Marin County. I moved to New York in 1994 with Michael Sears and created the label “Michael & Hushi”… but the most important thing for me was going back to Iran. It changed my life. It was everything together. I want to show you my melange of Iran (there are models here! IAAB is going to have pics soon and we’ll link to those!)

Anna Fahr, Filmmaker
Khaneh Ma: Documenting A Journey Home
This is my first feature documentary film. I started the project in 2003; the purpose was to document my first trip to Iran in 10 years. Ultimately the theme was looking at what home means to me, and what it meant to various other family members who’d also experienced cultural separation.

I’d only been to Iran twice prior to making the film. Consequently I experienced Iran through Norooz celebrations and Farsi lessons. I have always struggled with the struggle of being caught between two worlds.

We began production in 2004 and filmed for 2 months. We also filmed in Canada and Germany. Growing up in North America, I found that Iran had an image of extremism and the Western media didn’t help. I wanted to counter that by showing my own family. The crew was myself and my French-Canadian camera man, and my family came along to participate. Keeping the film more private allowed the subjects to be more open.

[Now there's a clip being shown of the filmmaker's interview with Mamani, her grandmother - it's not on YouTube, sorry.]

We also followed the story of my cousin’s family’s emigration from Iran to Canada. [Another clip here...] The notion of rebirth and adaptation is big here; he’s mostly optimistic, which illustrates the hope most newcomers bring to their destinations.

I also went back to Iran and I was overwhelmed by my experience. We should all go back and I’m overwhelmed by this panel and this organization. We can all contribute in taking back our country. One more comment about the show; I don’t think it’s very appropriate to use the Basij theme, as it’s a para-military organization in Iran
Mortezaie: In no way was the Basij theme meant to insult women. It was simply a visual journey. It’s a piece of fabric. Basiji beauty was not to glorify them, but to cut the Basiji apart and stitch it in a different way. It’s not pro-this or pro-that. There is not a load of intellectual politics that go into my designs, and it’s just a visual journey.

I think you should not use Basijis… a lot of Iranian women have been humiliated by Basijis, don’t glorify it, don’t put the name of Basijis on your designs. Don’t use that name, it has a very negative connotation. Whatever you do with Basiji.
Mortezaei: It’s not meant to glorify. It’s a word, and you can’t censor anyone.

Where can I buy this design, and also I think it’s quite unfortunate that we are self-censoring here
Mortezaei: IAAB has my contact info, and I’m happy to give it to you myself also.

What were difficulties in filming in Iran?
I filmed in 2004, and when I went, we did it in a very small way, so it wasn’t a big production. When we filmed in the airport, we didn’t look very conspicuous. Although right now, I don’t know if it’s gotten to be a little bit more restrictive.

I moved from Iran to D.C. and I have a keen interest in going back. How do you contact Tehran? How can I do it?
Ghezelbash: Well the director of Atieh Bahar consulting is here. Other than that, it’s not so different from going to work anywhere else in the world. There are various resources and I think IAAB is doing something as well, helping you set up contacts with companies and NGOs. Other than that, use us: we have contacts and we’d be happy to help.

I really don’t follow fashion much but I saw you on the Ali G Show so I would love to know how he got you (Mortezaei was Bruno)?
Mortezaei: He just waited after my show and waited and waited and got me.