This summer, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Europe with my Baba joon. When we were in Paris, we kept seeing advertisements for the exhibition, IRAN: Unedited History.
Curious, we decided to check it out at the Museum of Modern Art. The large gallery of drawings, pictures, film, posters, and artifacts is split into three sections: The era of Modernization (1960-1978), the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War (1979-1988), and the Contemporary era (1989-2014).
The art hung on white walls. It was not at all crowded and eerily quiet.
People seemed to be too intrigued to comment.
The only sounds came from Iranian movies that had been montaged into a five-screen presentation in one corner. Switching between scenes of a seductive, glamorous Persian film star, to crying and mourning from chadori women in the haram, and fight scenes between Persians and Mongolians, softly echoing throughout the deadly quiet gallery.
After reading Iran’s timeline, which was written on the wall, we saw paintings by artists such as Bahman Mohassess.
Colorful posters from the Arts Festival in Shiraz hung above drawings and newspaper articles about events both good and bad.
The “prostitution gallery” by Kaveh Golestan, was a significant portion of the exhibition. Black-and-white photos of women, old and young, sitting in their rooms or on the streets. A video, which could be listened to with headphones, plays interviews with the women, revealing how they were tricked or sold into the terrible lives they lead—some of them have children.
Interestingly enough, the collection was donated by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
The Revolution period exhibited anti-Shah and pro-democracy posters next to a projection screen showing a slideshow of clips and photos of the 1979 protests and welcoming of Imam Khomeini.
Perhaps the hardest section of the exhibition to view was that of the Iran-Iraq War. Pictures and slideshows of destroyed cities, bodies spread across the dirt, facial shots of the dead, and helplessness in the eyes of those still alive, caused me to look away more than once, not just for how graphic it was, but also the sorrow reality that war-torn Iran had suffered.
The last section of the exhibition was perhaps the most simple; weird and intriguing by contemporary Persian artists. A black-and-white slideshow of an Iranian inside the home. There was a backroom of tangible birds and black boxes of coal, perhaps used during the war. There were physical tombstones; one of them, unmarked.
At that moment, it strangely started to smell exactly like Iran.
The exhibition ended with a few political animations that took up the entire wall; most likely from the 2009 protests.
The last time I had felt this cold leaving a museum was when I had visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The chilling reality of our culture’s history affected me; I was unable to keep the black-and-white photos of eyes of Iranians, both happy and despaired. There was something haunting about even the contemporary slideshow, which featured pictures from a wedding and in-house gatherings.
It was simply a history lesson to my generation, and a painful reminiscence to the generation of our parents.
The exhibition will be open in Paris until August 24th. Overall, it was an interesting and educational experience. Hopefully, it can be shown in the United States and other parts of the world. There is a lot of sympathy to be drawn and…
a lot to be learned about our people’s past.
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