Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Community discusses Persian Visions

Randy Hazelton

Posted on November 11, 2013 in Arts & Culture
By Sam Hill

Panel covers art, identity, activism and culture in Iran

Having given the community nearly two months to visit the Persian Visions exhibit, Director of Exhibitions and Programs Carolyn Eyler organized a small panel discussion to discuss the importance of the work and give it some context.

This event, called Persian Conversations, was co-organized with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and covered various topics surrounding not only the exhibit, but the style of Iranian artists and the social and political state of modern Iran. The art exhibit features a collection of contemporary Iranian photography, and has been on display in USM galleries in both Gorham and Portland.

It was decided that USM would host the exhibit when Eyler was contacted by a representative from International Art & Artists, a company that develops and circulates fine art exhibitions to large and small institutions throughout the United States and abroad.

“I knew it would be a great fit for us,” said Eyler. “The art department has a strong photography program, and we have a strong multicultural connection with the aid of Reza Jalali.”

Jalali, the coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Student affairs and a recognized human rights and Muslim scholar, spoke on the political and social climate in Iran.

“We put together this exhibition because we truly feel like there is a great need to provide some accurate information about Iran,” said Jalali. “Modern Iran is a complex society, a mosaic of ethnic, religious and activist culture.”

Jalali said he hopes the exhibit and organized conversation has helped humanize the Iranian people for U.S. students, whose ideas of Iranian culture are often shaped solely on images from the mass media, which has vilified Iranians in recent years, he said.

“Most Americans here judge Iranians by the actions of their government and what they see in the media. Iranians are not all violent fundamentalist muslims,” said Jalali. “Persian Visions hopes to achieve a better understanding of that.”

After discussing broad, societal issues regarding the gallery, Pamela Karimi, an assistant professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, discussed the state of art in Iran and how art is influenced by the culture.

“These works show how well-informed Iranian artists are when it comes to global artistic developments,” said Karimi, “but this state of technical advancement should not undermine the fact that these works are uniquely Iranian.”

Karimi said that a question she has always thought was worth asking is, aside from the fact that the artists are Iranian and photographs include images of Iran, “in what ways are these pieces Iranian?”

“For me, the question is compelling, considering that in my recent interviews with various Iranian artists who are all currently residing there, I’ve noticed a common viewpoint: The majority of them would not want to be labeled as Iranian,” said Karimi. “They don’t want to fall into the neo-orientalist approach to art which tends to celebrate this kind of art because of its exoticness rather than its originality and intent.”

She explained examples of recurring themes within pieces in the gallery, and pulled examples from prominent Iranian films, such as A Time for Drunken Horses and Through the Olive Trees. From these, Karimi was able to point out themes of feminist activism, searching for identity and preserving history.

After the presentations, the panel members took questions from the audience on specific photographs, Iranian history and U.S. relations with Iran.

The exhibit will be up until Saturday, Dec. 8 in both locations.

“It [the exhibit] presents an experience in an intimate sort of way, and as a society we really need to be opened up to experiencing Middle Eastern culture,” said Eyler.

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