Monday, May 24, 2010

Pearls on the Ocean Floor- a new documentary by Robert Adanto

Sometimes when I go from a post on traditional art to a post on entirely different art form (different media even), I fell like declaiming like the announcer on Monty Python, "And NOW for something entirely different." I liked Adanto's previous documentary on contemporary Chinese art so when the press release for his new film dropped into my in-box, I wanted to get the word out. I've lived in the Middle East, have distant Lebanese ancestors and am fascinated by their history while being extremely grateful that my grandfather emigrated in the 1890's!

Robert Adanto’s new documentary Pearls on the Ocean Floor features interviews with some of the most highly regarded Iranian female artists living and working in and outside the Islamic Republic. The film is screening Sunday, June 13th at 2:00pm in conjunction with Taravat Talepasand: Drawings, curated by Thien Lam.

The televised images of brutal security forces cracking down on demonstrators in Iran garnered global attention throughout the last twelve months. Last June all eyes were on the Islamic Republic of Iran as its citizens took to the streets to protest the results of a disputed election. Thirty years after the overthrow of the Shah, Iran's streets filled with demonstrators, protesting another rigged election.
As artist-activist Shirin Neshat so aptly put it, “This is not an ideological war, like it was for those who demonstrated during the Islamic revolution of 1979, it is a loud and clear cry for basic human rights: freedom, democracy and justice… The silver lining — if there’s any — is that Iranians inside and outside of Iran have been united and mobilized. If this energy is suppressed, will we ever find the strength and hope to come back together as a nation to fight for democracy again?”

 It is women who have born the brunt of an oppressive regime and the bias of a western media that has repeatedly constructed one-dimensional images portraying them as humorless, repressed, second-class citizens in black chadors. But, given the lack of unsupervised access to women living in these countries and the lethal consequences for them should they be open, honest and critical of their government, that's to be expected. Adanto interviews Iranian women artists, most of whom have escaped from Iran and whose lives and liberty would be at risk should they return.

Professor Hamid Dabashi recently wrote, “a much more patient reading of the visual and performing arts of this generation is needed before we know what in the world it is doing.” The younger generation is struggling against the rigid religious ideology of the current regime, trying to create a more democratic state for the 21st century.

Photographer Shadi Ghadirian explains that her work “touches upon our struggle to hold on to our parents’ and grandparents’ traditional values and practices while experiencing the benefits of modernity without getting caught up in its vices… Change is an inevitable process,” she says.

Well, I'm not sure I share such optimism. Change is inevitable but it's not always change for the better. Nevertheless, such films are an important window into a country which is now viewed as a rogue state. It gives voices to women who would otherwise be silenced or forced to parrot the current Islamic party line.
Images @ Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Also see current review in NY TImes of work by Iranian born artist, Shoja Azari

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