Looking beyond Iran’s treasures beyond Ayatollah

London – The board game is about 4,500 years old. Shaped like a bird of prey, it has holes under its wings and chest, where pieces were once placed. It is one of a few dozen antiquities that were earmarked for a visit from the National Museum of Iran A spectacular exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum Here. But they never came.

Other artefacts that were scheduled to be shown – as detailed and illustrated and in the catalog of that exhibition “Epic Iran” – included a gold mask, a long-handled silver pan, and a carved stone cup. . To secure the loan, the museum had been in talks with the National Museum of Iran for a long time until early 2020, said Victoria & Albert Museum Director Tristram Hunt, also known as V&A.

“At a certain point, silence started descending, and I don’t think it was intrinsic to them” he said in an interview. “There were external political forces.”

Ironically, the broad objective of “Epic Iran”, according to Hunt, was to overthrow the monarchy and remove the political tensions that have affected relations between Iran and the West since the establishment of an Islamic republic.

“We want people to take a step back and understand that Iranian history did not begin in 1979,” he said. He called the issue “looking beyond the paradigm of what is called Islamic fundamentalism, and concerns about nuclear testing and Ayatollah’s approach”, and “understanding Iran’s prosperity, and breadth, and depth, and complexity and beauty” . “

The V&A show, which runs until September 12, has an amazing array of artifacts and treasures spanning 5,000 years on display: from the remains of early civilizations to the compositions of contemporary artists living in Iran today. The entire range of arts and crafts practiced in millennia in Iran is depicted with centuries-old carpets, illuminated manuscripts, miniature paintings, crafted jewelery, court paintings and fine textiles.

Broadly, hostility between Iran and the West was intensified during Donald Trump’s presidency. He United States pulled out of 2015 deal To curb Iran’s nuclear capability, strict economic sanctions against Iran and Ordered to kill Major General Qasim Sulemani, Iran’s most powerful security and intelligence commander, in January 2020.

Nima Meena, who taught Iranian studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies for 20 years, said that this has resulted in cultural cooperation between Iran and the West.

“In Iran after the revolution, everything has been politicized,” he said. He said that cultural institutions and artists had to align with “a certain ideological and political agenda”, as did artists in the Soviet Union.

“The Islamic Republic is an ideological, autocratic regime, so it is difficult to be non-political, even if one tries,” he said.

The V&A is not the only Western museum that tries to secure a loan from Iran and fails. In 2016, a long-planned Berlin exhibition of masterpieces from the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art was canceled after Iranian authorities withheld export permits for the works. Half of these were done by Western artists such as Picasso, Gauguin, Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon, and came from collections gathered before the revolution by Farah Pahlavi, the Iranian empress.

Originally, V&A – under its former director, Martin Roth – had planned to showcase a private collection of Sarikanis, a British-based family in Iran that has hundreds of pieces of Iranian art and heritage. When Mr. Hunt took over V&A in February 2017, he decided to make the exhibition somewhat wider and more extensive, including treasures from the collections of V&A and other international museums.

One of the most important objects in the show is lent to the V&A by the British Museum: the Cyrus Cylinder, a small clay tube dating back to the sixth century BCE, which the founder of the Persian Empire Cyrus the Great later under the Babylonian walls Was buried. He won it. Engraved in the cuneiform – the writings of the ancient Babylonian – the Cyrus cylinder was “a charter for good governance” in which Cyrus vowed not to “rule by oppression and dictatorship and tyranny”, said the exhibition’s co-curator, John Curtis, British Former guard of the Museum of the Middle East Department.

What Cylinder indicates is that Iran was a country of religious tolerance, and it enlightened the rulers two and a half thousand years ago. The British Museum included it in a popular 2005 exhibition, “Forgotten Empire”, aimed at opening Western minds to the country’s ancient culture and history.

That show received a very important loan from the National Museum of Iran: a silver bullet documenting the foundation of Persepolis, the capital city of the Persian Empire. The director of the British Museum at the time, Neil McGregor, said, “The tabloid traveled to London due to fairly critical press comments and complaints, which the British could not be trusted to return.” In return, Iran asked to borrow the Cirrus cylinder, which traveled to Iran in 2010, amid fears in London that it might never return. (Those fears were unfounded: the priceless item was returned.)

As well as artifacts from Iran’s past, the two rooms of “Epic Iran” on modern and contemporary art show that Iranians were active participants in 20th-century art movements, and, today, produce cutting-edge photography, paintings and installations.

High proportion of female artists on display – including photographers Wedding Ghadirian And Shireen Alibadi – Demonstrate that Iranian women have overcome gender inequality and restrictions such as the mandatory veil to produce and showcase their work.

This final segment of the show – put together by associate curator Ina Sarikhani Sandman, whose family lends extensively to the exhibition – coincides with the most recent period in Iranian history, the period of the revolution and the still raw division . The text of the wall reflects those tensions.

They refer to “the monarchical authoritarian rule, its relationship with economically exploitative Western powers, and its self-aggrandizing efforts to channel Iran’s pre-Islamic past”, which aroused discontent and led to revolution. Revolutionary Iran, on the other hand, is described as “isolating” and attempting to open up to the rest of the world “despite stricter domestic policies and international economic sanctions”.

“The choice of words in the context of the Islamic Republic is very cautious,” said educationist Meena. He said that it was probably out of a desire not to “threaten” the Iran-based actors participating in the show. He said, as a rule, painters, photographers, filmmakers and sculptors in general should not “be loyal, conformist, or at least challenge” the government to continue their art practice.

Despite the loan’s failures, V&A director Hunt said he hoped the show would pave the way for collaboration: the exhibition was always in the form of a two-way exchange, he said.

“It will always be good to have a relationship with Tehran, which we would like to build in the future,” he said.

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