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Art and documentary from Iran on display at LSE

Monday 28 September – Friday 6 November (Mon-Fri, 10am-8pm)
Atrium Gallery, Old Building, LSE

A festival of photography, art and documentary films on Iran will open at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on Monday 28 September.

Photograph from Transit Tehran: young Iran and its inspirations by Abbas KowsariTaken from the visually-led anthology Transit Tehran: young Iran and its inspirations, the exhibition portrays a city in transition – from its transsexuals and elite force of women police cadets to tolerant clerics and demonstrations by estesh-haddion (martyrdom seekers). This clash between modern and traditional values dominates the daily lives of artists and intellectuals in Tehran.

Tehran is a city of contradictions - its population contains the religious, the irreligious and the simply indifferent. Like 75 percent of the country's population, the Iranian artists, photographers, documentary filmmakers and graphic novelist in Transit Tehran: art and documentary from Iran represent a younger generation with strong emotional and social attachments to their culture and religion. They insist they are apolitical, although the very fact that they do not subscribe to the 'official' approach to arts and culture in the Islamic Republic can make their lives difficult in their country. The challenge is how to avoid self-censorship while avoiding government censors at the same time. They do not always win the battle.

Art from Transit Tehran: young Iran and its inspirations by Sadegh TirafkanParticipants: artists Sadegh Tirafkan and Khosrow Hassanzadeh; photographers Newsha Tavakolian, Abbas Kowsari, Javad Montazeri, Majid Saeedi, Kian Amani, Omid Salehi, Peyman Hooshmandzadeh, Kaveh Golestan, graphic novelist Parsua Bashi and veteran editor and reporter Masoud Behnoud bring the city to life through art, painting, illustration, portraiture, photojournalism, history and memoir. Transit Tehran provides a timely glimpse into a country which, while always in the news, keeps its secrets well guarded.

As an anonymous contributor to the book explained: 'Working in Iran is like walking on a tightrope. You always have to be careful…especially if you are critical of something in the country. Artists and intellectuals may never be incarcerated but they can always expect unfriendly calls at midnight to be interrogated or appear in court. Authoritarian regimes like insecurity. The real threat is not as important as the perceived one.'

After the disputed presidential elections, the threat became real. Several of the photographers included in the exhibition were attacked or jailed. The exhibition is dedicated to the book's co-editor and noted documentary filmmaker Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek correspondent who, after reporting from Iran for over a decade, was arrested on 21 June 2009 and has been held in solitary confinement in Evin prison without access to a lawyer.

Transit Tehran: art and documentary from Iran is accompanied by a series of documentary films and lectures. The documentary programme includes a viewing of Tehran Has No More Pomegranates by Massoud Bakhshi on Wednesday 14 October; Online Ayatollah by Maziar Bahari, and Countdown directed by Khatereh Hanachi on  Wednesday 21 October. A lecture on Young Iran: pictures, politics and stories with Malu Halasa featuring illustrations and readings from her anthology will be held on 19 October.

Transit Tehran: art and documentary from Iran is open Monday 28 September to Friday 6 November at LSE.


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Transit Tehran: art and documentary from Iran is open Monday 28 September to Friday 6 November at LSE.

  • Exhibition: admission free, Atrium Gallery, Old Building, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE
  • Transit Tehran events: free and open to all, with no ticket required. However, entry is on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • For more information please visit: www.lse.ac.uk/arts, email: arts@LSE.ac.uk or call 020 7955 6043.

Transit Tehran: art and documentary from Iran has been curated by Malu Halasa. A reception for the exhibition will be held on Wednesday 7 October 2009 , 7-9pm. Atrium Gallery, Old Building, LSE, hosted by Professor Sarah Worthington and a talk given by the exhibition's curator Malu Halasa. RSVP arts@lse.ac.uk

Transit Tehran was made possible by Iran Heritage Foundation, LSE Arts, Prince Claus Fund Library, Parallax Media, Metro Imaging, BBC World Service Trust and Harvard International PLC.

Events in the series

Transit I: Documentary Film Programme
Wednesday 14 October, 7.15-8.45pm
New Theatre, East Building
Tehran Has No More Pomegranates (Directed by Massoud Bakhshi, Iran 2007, documentary, 68 min. In Farsi with English subtitles.)

Introduced by James Neil, followed by a Q+A by Jon Snow with Massoud Bakhshi, Dr Nayareh Dalali, James Neil and Malu Halasa.

Tehran Has No More Pomegranates marks the arrival of a new auteur in Iranian cinema – Massoud Bakhshi. It is part of that rare breed: a collage 'ciné poem' of a great city metropolis. Like its spiritual brethren Berlin: Symphony of a City and Man with a Movie Camera, Pomegranates is at once suffused with a dizzying array of photographs and never before seen archive film from the past century brought together with a witty voiceover and a pulsating musical score by Mohsen Namjoo. Shot over five years and deploying a range of experimental filmic devices, it captures with humour and razor-sharp observation the transformation of Tehran from rural village to city of dreams.

Transit II: Lecture Programme:
Monday 19 October, 6.30-8pm
Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building
Young Iran: Pictures, Politics and Stories
by Malu Halasa, with illustrations and readings from her anthology with Maziar Bahari, Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations, followed by Q+A

Transit III: Documentary Film Programme:
Wednesday 21 October, 6.30-8.30pm
New Theatre, East Building
Online Ayatollah directed by Maziar Bahari, Iran 2001, documentary, 26 min, plus Countdown directed by Khatereh Hanachi, produced by Maziar Bahari and supported by the BBC World Service Trust, Iran 2008, documentary, 50 min. Both documentaries in Farsi with English subtitles. 

Online Ayatollah shows a day in the life of Grand Ayatollah Youssef Sanei. At home in the holy city of Qom, the Ayatollah advises on matters such as buying a house, travelling, marriage and divorce, gives religious instruction and reaches a world-wide audience through his website. He shares his office and a family meal with filmmaker Maziar Bahari, and sheds light on one of the most misunderstood professions in Iran, religious clerics. The short documentary film reveals a traditional holy man offering very modern advice. Produced for Al Jazeera (English), the documentary was made by Maziar Bahari, a Canadian/Iranian journalist arrested in Tehran on June 21 while covering the Iranian elections for Newsweek.

Countdown is a fly on the wall documentary about 18-year-old Parisa Pouladi who is buried in her books day and night, preparing for the national college entrance exam. Along with more than a million other Iranian high school graduates, Parisa hopes high marks will secure her a place in a top-notch college. Less than half of all the students taking the exam will pass. As the exam draws near, Parisa's parents' household – like thousands of others across the country – begins to implode.

23 September 2009