art of resistance, Iran

Time Travel Booth: Iran In 1967.

iran8/photo © Mehdi Mahboubian/

The following photos were taken by Mehdi Mahboubian, Iranian scholar, art dealer, collector and lover of Persian culture.  He took them in 1967, on a trip from Tehran to Shiraz.

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His son Kourosh Mahboubian explains how his father took these photos because he wanted a record of the sights, people, and way of life he loved so much.  From the kabab man to the bazaris, to the washer woman, he captured everyday scenes in the life of every Iranian.

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Mahboubian writes: “At that time, Iranian society had reached a crossroads between the magic of its ancient culture and the forces of modernization. The country was happy and prosperous for a while, though change, for good or bad, would become inevitable.”

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//all photos © Mehdi Mahboubian//

You can see more photos and read the full story here.

• • •

Previous Time Travel Booths:

Afghanistan by Paolo Woods

Middle East by Inge Morath

70’s and 80’s Sudan by Abbas Habiballa

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art of resistance, Iran, Iraq, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Syria, travel

Time Travel Booth: Middle East by Inge Morath.

IRAN. Yazd. 1956. Offerings in a Zoroastrian chapel.

IRAN. Yazd. 1956. Offerings in a Zoroastrian chapel.

Chris Boot, a former director of Magnum Photos, wrote the following lines about the great photographer Inge Morath:

Inge Morath was, above all, a traveller. Her approach to a story was ‘to let it grow’, without any apparent concern for narrative structure, trusting in her experience and interests to shape her work rather than in an editorial formula. She unsentimentally made pictures that were guided by her relationship to a place. These relationships were invariably intimate and long-lasting; she regularly revisited the places she chose to photograph and learned the relevant language… Similarly, her photographs of people are born of intimacy without sentimentality.”

Yes, Morath was a traveler, an observer of lives and places. Many of her travels included Middle East. Here are some of the photos she took around the region in the 50’s and 60’s.

IRAN. Tehran. 1956. In the market. Stalls with old books, gold teeth, samovars, and water pipes.

IRAN. Tehran. 1956. In the market. Stalls with old books, gold teeth, samovars, and water pipes.

IRAN. Tehran. 1956. Industrial landscape outside Tehran.

IRAN. Tehran. 1956. Industrial landscape outside Tehran.

IRAN. 1956. Near Rasht. Kurdish shepherd.

IRAN. 1956. Near Rasht. Kurdish shepherd.

IRAN. 1958. Public bath near the Caspian Sea.

IRAN. 1958. Public bath near the Caspian Sea.

IRAN. Tehran. 1956. Street musician performing.

IRAN. Tehran. 1956. Street musician performing.

IRAN. Yazd. 1956. View taken from the Minaret of the Mosque.

IRAN. Yazd. 1956. View taken from the Minaret of the Mosque.

IRAN. Isfahan. 1956. Photographer on the sidewalk of the Maidan-i Shah.

IRAN. Isfahan. 1956. Photographer on the sidewalk of the Maidan-i Shah.

IRAQ. 1956. Gypsies dancing in a camp near Catesiphon.

IRAQ. 1956. Gypsies dancing in a camp near Catesiphon.

IRAQ. Near Baghdad. 1956. Ruins of the Palace of Ctesiphon.

IRAQ. Near Baghdad. 1956. Ruins of the Palace of Ctesiphon.

Refugee camp. 1960.

Refugee camp. 1960.

JORDAN. Palestinian refugees at Muascar Camp near old Jerusalem. 1960

JORDAN. Palestinian refugees at Muascar Camp near old Jerusalem. 1960

DEIR EL BALAH (The Monastery at the Sea) Camp in Jabalya near Gaza.This is one of the best camp schools for refugee girls.They wear self made uniforms, desks have been made by refugee boys in the carpentry shop. In the background girls are having a sports class, behind the schoolyard, are the mud huts of the camp.

DEIR EL BALAH (The Monastery at the Sea) Camp in Jabalya near Gaza.This is one of the best camp schools for refugee girls.They wear self made uniforms, desks have been made by refugee boys in the carpentry shop. In the background girls are having a sports class, behind the schoolyard, are the mud huts of the camp.

LEBANON. Beirut. 1956. St. Simeon's beach. People rent small houses at this Mediterranean beach and many inhabitants spend their weekends and lunch hours there. Beirut was the only place in the Middle East where girls can go and sun-bathe in bikinis.

LEBANON. Beirut. 1956. St. Simeon’s beach. People rent small houses at this Mediterranean beach and many inhabitants spend their weekends and lunch hours there.

SYRIA. Palmyra. 1956.

SYRIA. Palmyra. 1956.

 

//all photos © Inge Morath/The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos//

• • •

For more on Inge Morath, visit The Inge Morath Foundation and Magnum Photos.

Previous Time Travel Booths:

70’s and 80’s Sudan by Abbas Habiballa

Palestine, First Intifada

20th Century Syria

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art of resistance, Iran

Five For Friday: 90’s Iranian Cinema.

If you haven’t discovered marvelous Iranian cinema yet, you better get to it! To offer you a good start, here are five Iranian films from the 90’s. 90’s were good times for Iranian cinema – providing us with so many gems, so much diversity and originality.

1. The Wind Will Carry Us by Abbas Kiarostami

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The film’s title is a reference to a poem written by the great Forough Farrokhzad  – which is already a promising start. The story follows a city engineer Behzad (with two other men) who comes to a rural village in Iran to keep vigil for a dying relative.

We see him trying to fit in with the local community and witness the way he changes his own attitudes with time. The main theme here is life and death, and approach to it is highly poetic. The beauty of the landscapes is captivating and serves the film so well. Great piece of art by Kiarostami – one to take in slowly, to dissolve into.

2. The Color of Paradise by Majid Majidi

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When I see a film is made by Majid Majidi, I know I am gonna go through falling in love and having my heart broken in 90 minutes. But I also know my heartache will not be a bitter one – yes, it will hurt, but it’s nice to be hurt by such beauty, nice to know you’ve been able to love the way you love(d). It was the same with this film.

This is a story about Mohammad, boy at Tehran’s institute for the blind, who waits for his dad to pick him up for summer vacation. His father finally comes and takes him to their village where his sisters and granny await. Mohammad adores nature and longs for village life with his family, but his father is ashamed of him and doesn’t want him around. Over granny’s objections, dad apprentices Mohammad far from home to a blind carpenter. This is heartwarming, heartwrenching, beautiful film.

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3. The Apple by Samira Makhmalbaf

the-apple-movie-poster-1998-1020202597This is a true documentary/drama gem. The story goes like this – after twelve years of imprisonment by their own parents, two sisters are finally released by social workers to face the outside world for the first time (it is a true story, by the way). Neighbors were signing a petition for social workers to investigate a home where their blind mother and out-of-work father have locked up two girls. The parents claim they were only protecting their children but the papers tell stories of children chained up and kept like animals.

The film crew follows the parents and children as they come to terms with the new, enforced freedom. Everything about this film is so subtle and so vibrant at the same time – it doesn’t punch you in the face with the moral, it allows you to come to it on your own. Beautiful and moving – watch it.

4. Salaam Cinema by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

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It was such a joy watching this. The director Mohsen Makhmalbaf put up an advertisement in the papers calling for an open casting for his next movie. However, when thousands of people showed up, he decided to make a film about the casting and the screen tests of the would-be actors.

Some of those would-be actors are almost crazy, some are utterly shy, some are there for different reasons (like getting out of the country), and some just might be great for acting. Makhmalbaf asks them all why they came and insists that they act and show what they can do. He even demands of them to laugh or cry within 10 seconds because that’s what actors can do or should be able to do. Funny, interesting, moving – this is just a great little film!

5. The Taste of Cherry by Abbas Kiarostami

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Another slow, beautiful, contemplating life and death film by Kiarostami. It is a story of a man (Mr. Badii) who drives his truck in search of someone who will quietly bury him under a cherry tree after he commits suicide. Nobody wants to help him – until he crosses paths with an old Turkish taxidermist, who has a sick son (needs the money) and has previously attempted suicide himself, so he agrees to assist Badii.

We never find out Badii’s motifs for suicide, no explanation whatsoever is offered. Many critics have disliked that fact, but I think that is what makes this a good story. I was still able to relate to Badii and feel his sorrow. It shows how we must take such conditions seriously – if we were to find out his reasons, we might judge him, we might say “oh, c’mon, that’s not a good reason to kill yourself”. That is wrong and wouldn’t change the way he feels. And the way he feels is illustrated in the wastness of the landscape he passes through – dry and dusty, endlessly empty. Watch this film.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Postcards From Syrian Refugees

Costs of War

Conversations With History

Iraq War Documentaries

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

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art of resistance, India, Iran, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia

Five For Friday: Conversations With History.

Conversations With History was conceived in 1982 by Harry Kreisler, as a “way to capture and preserve through conversation and technology the intellectual ferment of our times.” It’s a great series which includes over 500 interviews. Here are five of my favorites concerning various issues related to the Middle East (although there are more than just five great ones, of course).

1. Conversations With History: Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali talks about the creation of Pakistan, issues with India, and the dysfunctionality of the state today. He also talks about Israel, drawing parallels between states with strong religious and ethnic identities and the way that identity cripples them.

2. Conversations With History: Juan Cole

Juan Cole talks about journalism and academia, the way his life changed after the years he spent in Beirut and how he came to do his academic work on Islam.  He also talks about his great blog Informed Comment and the idea behind it.

3. Conversations With History: Amira Hass

Famous Israeli journalist Amira Hass talks about Israeli occupation, Palestinian terrorism, and the consequences of the conflict for the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians.

4. Conversations With History: Andrew Scott Cooper

Andrew Scott Cooper discusses his book The Oil Kings. Focusing on the geopolitics of the Middle East in the 1970’s, the book centers on the complex relationship between Nixon, Kissinger and the Shah of Iran. Revealing the contradiction between the Shah’s dependence on the rise of oil prices and the need to fund his new military role, Cooper explains how this contradiction resulted in the Shah’s downfall and the implosion of Iran.

5. Conversations With History: John L. Esposito

John L. Esposito, the author of Who speaks for Islam?, talks about the diversity of the Muslim world, extremism, and the complex forces shaping Islam and its relationship with(in) the West.

• • •

Previous Five For Friday:

Iraq War Documentaries

Graphic Novels on Israel & Palestine

Lectures and Interviews on Middle East & Islam

 

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art of resistance

The World of Ramin Bahrani: Man Push Cart & Goodbye Solo.

Ramin Bahrani is a truly magical film director (born in North Carolina, USA, to Iranian parents). The world of his films is a world of nighthawks, immigrants, trashy motels, road houses, cabs on call, broken families,  loneliness and unusual friendships. In other words  – welcome to the USA!

Concerning the themes of his films and the general atmosphere of his cinematic work, Bahrani’s USA would be the same USA as that of Tom Waits – poetic, melancholic, an irresistible growling from the streets. Bahrani has made four films so far, and all of his films were highly praised by ciritics and loved by the (indie) audiences, particularly his second film – Chop Shop (a little side note – Roger Ebert listed Chop Shop as the 6th best film of the decade and hailed Bahrani as “the director of the decade“).

Still, that is not to say his other films are less valuable or less wonderful. To prove that, or rather to show my appreciation for Bahrani’s work, I am writing about his first film – Man Push Cart, and the third one – Goodbye Solo, both lovely and heartwarming.

mpc4/Man Push Cart – snapshots/

Man Push Cart is a simple-story film (like all Bahrani’s films) showing a night in the life of a former Pakistani rock star who now sells coffee from his push cart on the streets of Manhattan. Ahmad is a Pakistani immigrant, struggling to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in Midtown Manhattan. Ahmad Razvi is so natural as Ahmad and his story feels so genuine, so real. Ahmad is in a new phase in his life, but it rather feels like a totally new life, where his past is nothing but a series of flashes of a life so distant, of a former-self that he might never get back.

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He is a stranger – a stranger to this life, a stranger to the city around him. Every day he sells coffee and donuts to a city he cannot call his own. He wonders about his life, but doesn’t lose his mind over it. He seems as a man ready to accept his fate, and whatever tomorrow brings. His calm and lonely ways are presented to us with a background of New York’s darks streets and yellow street lights that speak of poetry with no need for clarification. We feel Ahmad is lonely, even when he bonds with lovely Leticia Dolera who plays a spanish immigrant, but we also feel he is kinda ok with it. Does this speak of his weaknesses, or maybe his wisdom? What is the right way, and is there a right way, a universal one, at all?

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Throughout the film, the director is always coming back to the image of Ahmad pushing his cart through New York, the perfect illustration of loneliness in an overcrowded place. Brilliant photography helps in creating an atmosphere one inhales and keeps in his/her lungs for a long time after seeing the film. A beautiful experience!

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Goodbye Solo is the story of two men who form an unlikely friendship. Solo is a Senegalese cab driver working to provide a better life for his young family and William is a tough Southern good ol’ boy with a lifetime of regrets. One man’s American dream is just beginning, while the other’s is falling apart.

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Still, their differences aside, both men soon realize they need each other more than either (William more than Solo) is willing to admit. It is a story of friendship, but also a story of America and the ruins of American dream(s). Solo is on a cretain quest to save William (from what is clearly a suicide trip), but is at the same time trying to gain control over his own life, in terms of providing for his family, getting a better job, preparing for a new child and raising his step-daughter.

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He has a big shiny smile (Souleyman Savane is a natural, so great at this role), and is full of dreams for tomorrow, but still – somewhere deep inside, silently, he is fully aware of his position as a second-rate citizen (maybe hoping that the silence will make that fact disappear). On the other hand, William is an old man, always grumpy, with many hardships on his path of life, but still – too bitter for a life that can still offer surprises and inspiring moments.

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In a beautiful and almost seamless blend of the story and photography (once again), Bahrani tells a tale of persistence, but also – of learning to let go. All of that with a spark of mystery, always present in his films, for he is on mission to make us see, but also – make us wonder and keep us wondering.

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art of resistance, Iraq

The Book To Read: A Sky So Close by Betool Khedairi.

Betool Khedairi is an Iraqi novelist, born to an Iraqi father and a Scottish mother. She grew up in Iraq, and later on moved between Iraq, Jordan and United Kingdom.  A Sky So Close is her first novel, written more than a decade ago. The book has been published in numerous languages, from Arabic to English, Italian, French and Dutch.

729570-gf/French edition of A Sky So Close/

This novel is about Iraq as much as it isn’t about Iraq – it is a story about the freedom and imagination of childhood, about the complex struggle between identities, cultures and traditions, abour racism and shadows wars cast on societies long after they’re finished. Khedairi tells the story in a simple, unpretentious way, offering a fresh look on childhood in the Iraqi countryside in the 1970s. She writes:

“In the vast expanse everything was bigger than me. Even the way you looked at me, across the breakfast table, when I called my mother ‘mummy’ instead of calling her ‘youm’ or ‘yumma’ in the Arabic way. I only felt I was my true size when I was with Khadija, this person was the only creature in the world who made me feel that there was something or someone, as small as me. I made her even smaller. I called her Khaddouja – ‘Little Khadija’.

She was my world. She was everything that came in the second half of the day. A world that spread between our farmhouse and her father’s hut, by the banks of the Tigris River, in our little village twenty miles south of Baghdad. Zafraniya, it was called – ‘Land of Saffron.’ That was where the apricot trees grew. Vast acres of graceful trees , their upper branches entwined. When the sun starts to sink over the apricot farm, their shadow fall as complex patterns of light and shade on the ground underneath. The youthful branches stretch out in all directions. Their sharp twigs seem like fingers, entangled in handshakes, exchanging bunches of white flowers. Each spring I wish that the flowers would last forever.”

We get to know about adolescence issues and coming of age during the long Iraq-Iran war, which changed the country beyond retrieve.  It was a state of chaos, a chaos people got used to with time. Khedairi describes the situation:

“The war has been dragging its heavy feet from the day the first military communique was issued. The ages of those called up for compulsory military services have been extended to both younger boys and older men. Calls have gone out for more voluntary contributions. Laws forbidding travel abroad have become more numerous and varied. Foreign magazines have disappeared from the shelves in bookshops. Imported good have been replaced by local produce.

Pharmacies have been banned from selling conraceptive pills in an effort to increase the populationnand replace losses at the battlefields. The television natters with promotions encouraging marriage and early conception. In a new trend called ‘mass weddings’ large halls are hired out, complete with all varieties of foods and sweets. Couples are married there en masse. Each couple takes their turn at cutting the gigantic white cake, using a knife decorated with colored ribbons.”

The story continues with protagonist’s migration to England, some years before the first Gulf war, when, as she writes; “events in my homeland were no longer considered newsworthy by the world’s radio stations.”

The book is not a masterpiece, but a rather enjoyable and fair account of one’s life between East and West, war and peace, survival and death.

• • •

Previous The Book To Read:

My Happiness Bears No Relation To Happiness

Suad Amiry & The Absurdity of Life Under Occupation

Sohrab Sepehri & The Water’s Footfall

and more.

 

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers.

Nadia Anjuman was an Afghan poet (born in 1980, died in 2005). She was born in Herat, a city captured by the Taliban in 1995. With no hope for continuing her education at that time, Anjuman rallied with other local women and began attending an underground educational circle called the Golden Needle Sewing School, organized by Herat University professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab in 1996.

Members would gather three times a week under the guise of learning how to sew (a practice approved by the Taliban government), while in actuality the meetings enabled them to hear lectures from Herat University professors and lead discussions on literature.

nadia anjuman/Nadia Anjuman, image via Phyllis MacLaren/

My first thought when learning about the Sewing Circle of Herat was very predictable – it reminded me of Dead Poets Society. The notion that they had to meet in secret to discuss literature and write poetry was terrifying and enchanting at the same time. Terrifying was the fact that they had to do it with such great risks, enchanting was that they did it in spite of that.

In 2001, the doors of the girl’s schools were opened once again. Anjuman was admitted to the Literature Department of Herat University, and couple of years later, when she died, her brother recalled how that was the happiest time in Nadia’s life – “she seemed as though she’d been handed the whole world”. Her parents were supportive and respectful of her talent and she was adored by her brothers and sisters. Her writing blossomed and she published her first book of poetry, Dark Flower, four years later (2005).

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One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon

(written in summer of 2001, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Unfortunately, Anjuman found herself in an unhappy marriage. Her husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Neia, graduated from Herat University with a degree in literature and became the head of the library there. Although he was a literature graduate, many of Anjuman’s friends and relatives claim Neia was not supportive of her writing.  One night, in November of 2005, Anjuman and Neia had a fight. That night Neia beat Anjuman until she was unconscious, causing severe bruising and a cut to her head. It was reported that she died as a result of injuries to her head.

Anjuman’s brother describes the night she died:

“It was the bitterest news we had ever received. No one could believe it. That night was a hundred times darker than other nights. The moon had been veiled and Nadia’s life had been extinguished!”

He continues to say:

“Nadia was buried amidst an aura of tragedy; the light rain fell like tears in the cemetery in north-east Herat. In the days that followed tributes appeared in all publications. Nadia’s poetry, talent, character and personality were praised. Interviews appeared in the media, round table discussions and scholarly dissections of her tragic fate. Many people still come to our house to bless Nadia, but to what end? Nadia has left this horrible world forever.”

Anjuman’s husband Neia was imprisoned after her death, but the tribal elders in Herat began to lean on Anjuman’s ailing father, asking that he forgive Neia for her death in order to shorten his prison sentence. With the promise that Neia would remain in prison for five years, Anjuman’s father relented. Her death was officially deemed a suicide by the Afghan courts, and Neia was released just one month later. Her father died shortly after from the shock, according to Anjuman’s brother.

The Complete Poems of Nadja Anjuman were published by Iran Open Publishing Group in 2014. There are couple of English translations of  Anjuman’s poems available online. She is now one of the dead poets, but the eternal pit of time will not be able to turn her greatness into the darkness of oblivion, I am sure of that.

Eternal Pit (translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow

 

Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts

 

Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees

 

Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power

But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp

fading

 

She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go

 

She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time

That

eternal pit

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art of resistance, Iran, travel

Kandovan, Iran: Living In A Cave.

Kandovan (Iran) is one of the handful villages in the world that was carved into rocks. The story of Kandovan is a story of the 21st century cavemen. Brownbook’s Sophie Chamas describes the trip to Kandovan with the photographer Saber Alinejad:

” ‘I travel to Kandovan a lot. I usually drive, taking the mountainous Kargar Boulevard past the garden city of Osku towards a path that’s full of twists and turns. It takes me through villages full of pink roses before leading me to Kandovan, an incredible village that highlights the history of this land.’ 

Like many residents of Tabriz, the capital of northwestern Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, photographer Saber Alinejad has been making regular excursions 60 kilometres south to the neighbouring village of Kandovan since he was a child. Believed to be more than 700 years old, the sparsely populated, ancient town of around 600 residents welcomes around 300,000 visitors from Tabriz, greater Iran and far beyond each year, all eager to admire its unusual landscape and meet the troglodytes, or cave dwellers, who call it home.”

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Chamas continues saying:

Windows, electricity cables, clotheslines, doors and chimneys become increasingly discernible with every passing kilometre, marking these aged caves not as archaic dwellings, but contemporary homes. ‘Visiting this landscape for the first time as a child was very strange,’ recalls Alinejad. ‘I didn’t know what to make of these people carving “hives” into volcanic rock.’

As an ensemble, these caves are often compared to an enormous termite colony, explaining why their residents call them ‘karan’, meaning ‘beehives’ in the local Turkic dialect.”

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“‘Kandovan is one of a handful of villages in the world that was carved into rocks,’ says Alinejad, ‘and it’s only here that people continue to inhabit their caves. They have the option of leaving for bigger cities to study and find better work, but many like living here. For them, it’s like being in a sturdy castle.’ “

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For more about this unique village and its residents, read the full article on Brownbook.

I am finding this story lovely lovely (double lovely is intentional) and can’t help myself but to think about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Connecting it with the Kandovan caves story, we could say that the residents of Kandovan might never find the freedom of the philosopher, but I am sure there is beauty to their caves and a freedom of its own. In this case, it just might be the opposite of Plato’s allegory  – free from many torments of the global plague of capitalism , it is they, inside the caves – who can see the life limpidly.

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//all images © Saber Alinejad/ Brownbook//

For more great photos of Kandovan, you can also visit Heritage Institute.

 

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art of resistance, Iran

The Book To Read: Sohrab Sepehri and Water’s Footfall.

Last Sunday, I was strolling around one of Zagreb’s lovely flea markets, spending hours looking at used books, old postcards and perfectly hand-painted china teapots. At the end of my stroll (after I found Isabel Allende’s The House of The Spirits, perfectly preserved, for ten HRK, which would be less than two USD), already tired from all the digging and searching, I discovered a little green book – Sohrab Sepehri’s The Water’s Footfall (Selected poems). I must be honest and say that was the first time I encountered Sepehri’s poetry. The book was translated by Ismail Salami and Abbas Zahedi, and each English translation of the poem has a Persian original next to it, which is great if you’d like to practice your Farsi.

After reading most of the poems, it would be and understatement to say this was a nice little discovery. I am so happy I got to stumble upon such a great poet, with such an original gaze at the world around us. I like Sepehri’s  fascination with nature – happiness caused by lilac flowers, clean rivers, old trees. I like the way he plays with the concept of loneliness, often presenting it as an inevitable thing, but also a necessary one – to know yourself truly. Sepehri’s poetry is gentle, his flow of the words and ideas somehwat discreet, making one think Sepehri’s aim with poetry was never to persuade, but simply to observe (if he did have an aim).

sohrab-sepehri28-28Sohrab Sepehri

Sepehri was born in 1928 in Kashan, an ancient city between Tehran and Isfahan in central Iran. His grandmother had published poetry and it is likely that Sohrab grew up in an ethos that upheld a literary culture. His father died when he was young, and Sohrab’s studies and career were supported by his older brother, Manuchehr.  After finishing his education, he started to travel around Europe, but also to Japan and India. He would often travel to exhibit his paintings (Sepehri was also one of Iran’s foremost modernist painters), but also to learn new skills – in Paris he studied lithography, in Tokyo wood-carving. He never stopped writing poetry, and his travels are often the subject of his poems. Sepehri never married and died in Tehran in 1980 (of leukemia).

5DB01739-E1D1-4E9F-8A58-B7E07BFE5C17_w640_r1_sSepehri’s ‘Tree Trunks‘ series /via Sotheby’s/

Water’s Footfall (1964) is his longest and maybe finest single poem. Like Martin Turner notes in Sohrab’s Way:

“Very loosely an autobiography, it contains many of his most quoted passages and is the centrepiece of his poetic oeuvre. It deals with the lose of innocence, dating from his father’s death, and documents impressionistic details from his travels. But the journeying is also symbolic: he reads the lessons of life and divests himself of self-deceptions. A constant theme is the neo-Sufi one of opposition to the mosque and the rigours of Islamic legalism. It is in contact with nature that Sohrab experiences unitive rapture.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from Water’s Footfall.

“I am a native of Kashan.

Life is not so bad.

I have a bit of bread, an iota of intelligence

And a bit of wit.

I’ve a mother, better than a leaf;

And friends, better than running water.

And a God who lives nearby:

Amidst these gillyflowers, near that tall pine tree

Over water’s cognition, over the ontogeny of plant.”

“I’m a native of Kashan:

An artist by profession.

Sometimes, I build a cage of colours and offer it for sale

To ease your lonely heart

With the song of the peony confined therein.

It’s a fancy! Only a fancy! … I know.

My canvas is lifeless.

I well know my painted pond is fishless.”

sohrab2Sepehri’s ‘Tree Trunks’ series

“I’m a native of Kashan,

Descending perhaps

From a plant in India, an earthenware from Sialk

Or perhaps from a prostitute in the streets of Bukhara. 

Father died after twice migrating of swallows,

Twice falling of snow

Twice sleeping on the terrraced-roof;

Father died beyond Time.”

I saw many things on Earth:

A child sniffed the moon.

Light fluttered in a doorless cage.

Love ascended to the Heaven by a ladder.

A woman pounded light in a mortar.

For lunch they had bread, vegetables, a plate of dew

and a warm Bowl of Affection.”

My soul sometimes coughs from longing,

My soul idles:

It counts raindrops, the chinks of brinks.

My soul is sometimes true as a rock on the road.

“I am contented with an apple

And with the smell of camomile.

I am satisfied with a mirror, with a pure relationship.

I won’t laugh at a child if his balloon bursts.

I won’t sneer when a philosophy halves the moon.

I know the fluttering of quail’s wings.

The colour of bastard’s belly, the footprints of chamois. 

I know where rhubarbs grow

When starlings migrate, when partridges sing,

When falcons die.

I know that the moon means in the Sleep of Desert

Death in the Stalks of Desire.”

d5059596xSepehri’s Landscape With Houses /photo via Christies/

“Wherever I am, let me be

The heaven is mine.

WIndow, mind, air, love, and earth are mine.”

….

Life is a perpetual soaking.

Life is bathing in the Pond of Now.

Let’s take off our clothes.

Water is one step off.”

For more on Sohrab Sepehri and his works, see his profile on Goodreads, and see the website dedicated to him.

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art of resistance, Iran

Newsha Tavakolian returning Carmignac Gestion Award: “My integrity cannot be bought”.

Newsha Tavakolian, great Iranian photographer who covered many conflicts in Iran, but also a war in Iraq, natural disasters and social issues all over the Middle East, found herself in the midst of a different turmoil last couple of months. She has returned a 50,000 Euro award from a French foundation she says persistently altered her work to reflect a completely negative and stereotypical assessment of Iran and refused to stop when askedHere is Tavakolian’s full statement, published on her facebook page.
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 Newsha Tavakolian, Look, 2013.
In recent months I have been named as the winner of the 2014 Carmignac Gestion photojournalism Award, a 50.000 Euro grant for a photographic project about Iran. My winning this award has been announced twice, in the Financial Times, in two full-page advertisements, I began working on this project in December 2013, completing and delivering the work to the Foundation in July 2014 as scheduled. The news of my winning the grant was announced subsequent to the delivery of the project at a reception during the Arles festival this past summer. Naturally I was extremely happy.Today I am announcing that due to irreconcilable differences over the presentation of my work, I am returning the cash award and stepping down as the winner of the Carmignac Gestion Award for photojournalism 2014, canceling all my cooperation with this foundation and its patron, the French investment banker Edouard Carmignac.  My acceptance of the terms of the award from the Carmignac Gestion Foundation was based on the understanding that I would have full artistic freedom as a photographer to create a work that is faithful to my vision as an established photojournalist and art photographer. Unfortunately, however, from the moment I delivered the work, Mr. Carmignac insisted on personally editing my photographs as well as altering the accompanying texts to the photographs. Mr Carmignac’s interference in the project culminated in choosing an entirely unacceptable title for my work that would undermine my project irredeemably .Mr Carmignac’s insistence on changing essential aspects of my work would have resulted in completely changing the nature of my project from a subtle attempt to bring across the realities of life of my generation in Iran to a coarse and horrible clichéd view about Iran. His insistence on changing the name of the project from”Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album” to the overused and loaded title, “The Lost Generation” was simply not acceptable to me. Over the past months I have been engaged in a number of discussions with him directly, about the nature of this grant. I tried to convince him that as the creator of this project, I am entitled to my artistic freedom. Whilst I absolutely welcome other points of view, I cannot accept that anyone other than myself should have the final say about my work. But at no point would he accept this as my right. Recently I sent him a private email, in a last-ditch attempt to explain another reason why he should let me have control over my work. I explained that living in Iran as I do and where photographers can be arrested for what the government may deem offensive, he should refrain from changing the title of my work, making it unnecessarily controversial.
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Girls smoking, Newsha Tavakolian
During my 15 year career I have taken many risks as a photographer, covering protests, wars and other events, but those risks have always been based on my own judgment and decision. In reply to my email, Mr Carmignac and his foundation have chosen to maliciously interpret my attempt to dissuade them from changing the name of my project to a title that I deem unsuitable to the spirit of my work, by declaring that I have pulled out of the award because of pressure by the Iranian Government in the following statement:

“Newsha Tavakolian, the 33 year old Laureate of the 5th edition of the Carmignac Gestion Photojournalism Award has pictured the Lost Generation in Iran during a 5 month work. Once the award has been announced, the Government has put the Laureate and her family under severe pressure. In order to protect Newsha Tavakolian and her family, the Carmignac Foundation has decided to adjourn the exhibition, initially planned for November in Paris and thereafter in Italy, Germany and the UK.”

As far as I can see, this statement is a natural continuation of the persistent attitude I have encountered at the Carmignac Foundation, namely to err on the side of controversy. All presumptions in this statement are absolutely false, and laughable. I am not in any way under threat at least no more than other journalists who are in Iran. I believe the real reason for the cancellation of my project is the simple fact that Mr. Carmignac did not get what he wanted, namely, full control over my work according to his own established idea of how Iran should be represented.
The statement above is a desperate effort to try to force me into accepting his version of my project, by hoping that I would fear the Iranian authorities more than I would fear him. It is tantamount to a threat. All my life I have faced censorship and pressures from the mighty and powerful here in Iran. The Carmigniac Award , to use the Foundation’s own description of the prize, is supposed to be “committed to champion the personal and, by definition, minority view”. In my case at least, this has turned into a laughable opposite. As a response to my refusal to have my work editorialized, Mr Carmignac has now “adjourned” the exhibitions I was promised under contract and has indefinitely postponed the publication of a book which was ready to go to print.
77b51b2975Taxi driver (A taxi driver in his car on a rainy day. Behind him a poster of an upcoming performance of Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’), Newsha Tavakolian

As a professional, I honoured my part in conceiving, realizing and delivering the work that I had promised to produce. Mr Carmiggnac and by extension the Carmignac Gestion Foundation have failed to fulfill their part of our collaboration. I am disgusted by Mr Carmignac’s behaviour, and highly disappointed over his lack of professional integrity as a self styled patron of independent photojournalism, a profession that according to his Foundations’s mission statement is undervalued and fraught with danger. To encounter unscrupulous behavior from mighty patrons was the last thing I expected when I joyously accepted this award.
I am now left with little choice but to pull out of this award because of the insistence of the Carmignac Gestion Foundation to compromise my artistic integrity and independence. I hereby return and officially step down as the 2014 laureate of the Carmignac Gestion Award for photojournalism. My artistic freedom and my integrity cannot be bought.”
 For more on Newsha Tavakolian and her photography, visit her official website.
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