From its inception, the Foundation has strived to perform its mission in cooperation with other institutions with similar interests and goals. Over the years, it developed special collaborative relations with several institutions, chief among them the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS), the George Washington University, Johns Hopkins Schools of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and, in the world of culture and the arts, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution and the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts among others. The following are examples.
At MESA, in addition to participating in regular panels, FIS sponsors special plenary sessions in Persian featuring guest speakers and panelists from Iran and across the world. “Tales of Evasion: Images of Women in contemporary Iranian Culture,” with Professor Azar Nafisi at the 1997 MESA annual meeting, is one example. “Millennial Passages: Recent Losses and the Future of Persian Literature,” a panel chaired by Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak November 2000 in Orlando, Florida, is another. One of the most moving programs in this line was the one in 1996 entitled “Aspects of Women’s Lives in Iran Today,” where Mehrangiz Kar, Iranian lawyer and human rights activist, gave a vivid lecture on women and the law in contemporary Iran. “Iran’s Literature in Exile” a panel with Goli Taraghi and Ardavan Davaran, and Majid Roshangar was presented at MESA in 2001. On November 23, 2002 FIS organized a special session on “Religion, Culture and Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran” in which Abdolkarim Lahiji, president of League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran, Mehrangiz Kar, Iranian lawyer and human rights activists, and Iran Nameh editor, Hormoz Hekmat, participated.
FIS collaborates with the International Society for Iranian Studies by organizing panels, cultural events, and special plenary sessions at the biennial conferences. At the Second SIS Biennial Conference held in Bethesda, MD in May 1998, for example, the Foundation provided for the participation of several Iranian academics and human rights activists and sponsored a panel titled “Spaces and Boundaries: Women in Contemporary Iranian Society” chaired by Mahnaz Afkhami. Iran Nameh editor Hormoz Hekmat co-chaired the plenary closing session at which two speakers–Professor Javad Tabatabai of CNRS and lawyer and human rights activist Mehrangiz Kar were invited by FIS to discuss aspects of intellectual discourse in Iran. At the SIS Third Biennial Conference in May of 2000, FIS presented several panels, including a special panel on the condition of women in Iran and a final plenary session featuring writer Goli Taraghi, and Iran Nameh editor, Shahrokh Meskoob. A special session titled “Insider/Outsider: Iranian Women’s Lives Seen Through Art and Literature in Iran and Abroad was presented at the 4th biennial conference of the International Society for Iranian Studies. The session featured Karim Emami, independent scholar from Iran, Fereshteh Daftari associate curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Shirin Neshat, Iranian video producer/director, Ghazal Radpay, producer director from Iran, and Azar Nafisi of Johns Hopkins University and Nasrin Rahimieh of University of Alberta. FIS presented a plenary session “People-Centered Human Security: Global Dimensions and Iranian Perspectives” at the ISIS conference in May 2004. Former US Secretary of Health and Human Services gave the keynote address followed by commentaries by Mahnaz Afkhami, Farhad Kazemi, and Farrokh Najmabadi. And in 2008, FIS sponsored a plenary on Iran’s atomic energy policy under the Shah and after, in which Akbar Etemad, first President of the Atomic Energy Organization or Iran, was the speaker.
FIS academic collaboration with the George Washington University goes back to the early years of its establishment in Washington, DC. A symposium on women in post-revolutionary Iran organized by The Women’s Center of the Foundation for Iranian Studies and the Middle East Center of the University of Pennsylvania at the George Washington University led to the publication in 1994 by Syracuse University Press of In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-revolutionary Iran, edited by Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. The Noruz Lecture Series has been a joint project between GWU and FIS, which has had the continuous support of Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr who is a faculty member at George Washington University.
Encouraging the Arts
An important function of FIS is to bring the best in Iranian culture to Americans and Iranians in America. Past cultural activities have included exhibitions, film festivals, concerts, and poetry readings. FIS performs this function often in collaboration with other institutions interested in culture such as the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center for the Performing arts, and the Library of Congress in the Washington metropolitan area and similar institutions across the U.S. Performances and exhibitions have been usually accompanied by participatory panels that offer the audience a chance to talk with the artists about their work. The Foundation organized “Divine Symmetry: A Journey Through Ancient Persian Art and Culture,” a series of eight lectures at The Smithsonian Campus on the Mall, where the romance and spirituality of ancient culture was brought to life through presentations by experts and scholars on subjects ranging from the arts and music to philosophy, literature and cuisine.
A major purpose of these activities have been to present to the public new developments in the Iranian arts world. An example is a special series of events entitled “Celebration of Persian Art and Culture,” cosponsored with the Sackler Gallery, focusing on the cultural context for the art of the book, a film series about the art in Shâhnâmeh and Iranian art in America, calligraphy, and storytelling. In 1991 FIS sponsored a concert of computerized classical Persian music by Dariush Dowlatshahi at the MESA annual meeting at the University of Texas, Austin. Dowlatshahi, an Iranian composer and musician specializing in uses of modern techniques in classical and modern music, presented the idea in a more developed form in a 1993 FIS concert in Washington, entitled “Innovation and Tradition: The Role of Computers in New Interpretations of Eastern and Western Music.”
Bringing Iranian and non-Iranian performing arts, particularly music, together in concert has helped the Foundation toward its mission of showing the general US public the fundamental empathy that marks our seemingly divergent art forms. In a lecture series in 1989, Shusha Assar, an Iranian writer and folk singer now living in England as a writer and editor, sang Iranian, French and English folk songs, and read from her moving memoir The Blindfold Horse. In 1997, the Foundation invited Lily Afshar, a young Iranian artist teaching music at the University of Memphis, to present a concert of Iranian folk music and Spanish classical guitar to a mixed audience of Iranians and Americans at the Women’s Club of Chevy Chase, MD. In the same year, poetry of Hafiz of Shiraz selected from The Green Sea of Heaven, a translation of Hafiz’s divan by Elizabeth Gray, was presented by the Foundation at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery. The presentation, combined selected lyrics in the original and English translation rendered in declamation, song, and music.
An evening of Persian music with Shahin and Sepehr, two young Iranian musicians of increasing renown in North America, represents an example of the Foundation’s interest in modern popular Persian music. The concert, performed on the steps of the Sackler on May 26, 2000 on the occasion of the Society for Iranian Studies’ Third Biennial Conference on Iranian Studies, was cosponsored by the Foundation for Iranian Studies and the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
In the same pioneering vein, on February 19, 1995 FIS was host to one of the most important cultural events to date involving Iranian art in the United States. A conference on cinema and cinematography in Iran featured Iranian directors Bahram Beyzai and Abbas Kiarostami and cinema critics Fereydun Hoveyda, Farrokh Ghaffari, Shahrokh Golestan, and Jamshid Akrami. Since then Kiarostami has been the Foundation’s guest on several occasions. “Tabaki,” a documentary by Bahman Kiarostami, Abbas Kiarostami’s son, was premiered at Kenney Auditorium at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on April 20, 2001; father and son participated in the ensuing discussion with the audience. A close-up of his work by Mahmoud Behraznia depicted the problems encountered by contemporary Iranian filmmakers. The event was jointly sponsored by FIS and SAIS and was chaired by Azar Nafisi of SAIS. On September 27, 2005 the Foundation presented a book launch featuring Shusha Assar’s book “The Secret of Laughter: Magical Tales from Classical Persia” in which board member Azar Nafisi and FIS executive director Mahnaz Afkhami participated.
Promoting Iranian Films
“A Taste of Cherry,” a film by Abbas Kiarostami, winner of 1997 Golden Palm award of the Cannes Film Festival, was shown on Friday May 22, 1998 at the Dorothy Betts Theatre of the George Washington University. Film critic, Jamshid Akrami presented a retrospective on the work of Kiarostami’s work.
A Dariush Mehrjui retrospective was presented on November 24, 1998 at the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The retrospective included a full-length presentation of Mehrjui’s most recent film, “The Pear Tree,” followed by the director’s comments and explications.
“Divorce Iranian Style,” a film by Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Kim Longinotto about three Iranian women seeking divorce before an Iranian court, was presented at Kenney Auditorium, Johns Hopkins University on February 3, 1999. The film, sponsored jointly with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, was followed by a panel discussion with Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Mahrangiz Kar, and Azar Nafisi.
“A Time for Drunken Horses” and “Marooned in Iraq,” award-winning films by Bahman Ghobadi were presented by the Foundation at preview screenings in which the director participated and responded to the audience’s questions. The screenings at the Motion Picture Association of America took place on October 17, 2002, and April 4, 2003 respectively.
“Persepolis Recreated” an award-winning documentary by Farzin Rezaeian was shown at the Ward Auditorium of American University in Washington, DC on October 30, 2004.
“Turtles Can Fly” by Bahman Ghobadi was previewed on February 9, 2005 at the Motion Picture Association of America.
Periodically, FIS organized exhibitions of works by contemporary Iranian artists. Among these was an exhibition of Maryam Zandi’s portraits of Iranian writers and artists at the MESA conference in 1991 in Washington DC as well as at the George Washington University. Another was “Voices and Visions,” a multimedia presentation featuring paintings by Maryam Javaheri, Farideh Lashai, and Rafat Mosaddeqi; readings by Goli Taraghi and Nahid Rachlin; ceramics by Malekeh Nayini, and screening of director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad’s film Nargess. Another event, “Evolving Perceptions 2000: Art for Peace,” the 4th Annual Exhibition of Iranian American Artists, held September 9-23, 2000, cosponsored with the Iranian American Cultural Association, was juried by Mahin Ghanbari, Hengameh Fouladvand, executive director of Center for Iranian Modern Arts (CIMA), New York, and Sussan Babai, a historian of Islamic art and architecture and a specialist on the arts of Iran. Thirteen artists participated in the competition. In winter 2003 FIS co-sponsored an exhibition of paintings by 24 Iranian artists titled “Emotional Sensibilities,” in Washington, DC. “Dialogue Through Art” was another exhibition of Iranian and American painters cosponsored by the Foundation and curated by Sarah Barzmehri on March 7, 2004.