Friday, 19 March 2004
Excerpts from an article translated from German into
Ambiguity is the strongest
weapon for artists
Christina Tilmann: Is
there an art scene in Iran?
Farhad Moshiri: When
I went back to Iran I tried to avoid the art scene
if there was any. So many things in Iran were overwhelming
that I needed time. I had to get things in perspective.
In the last two years a lot has changed. I have had
CT: What was so overwhelming
that you could not work in Iran?
FM: It was a country
that I had my roots in. But it was a culture shock
coming from the US, Iranian culture in comparison
to Hollywood, is quite complex. What interested me
were the new classes that had emerged in that country.
A side of Iran that hadn’t before been exposed.
The picture that Western media paints of Iran is dark
and negative. I am not saying that all of this is
wrong, only that I don’t like the one sided
CT: How free are you
in your choice of subject matter?
FM: As an artist living
in Iran, I can’t afford to be too direct. To
protect my work and myself I try not to attack political
subject matters head on. Therefore, I look at things
from an aesthetic viewpoint, the form and shape that
is the outcome of a certain behavior.
CT: Have you had a brush
with censorship or had any exhibitions shut down?
FM: I used to send a
lot of screenplays to the Ministry of Islamic Guidance
for approval but all were rejected in a very civilized
way. You drop off your work. They say it’s awful.
You say thank you and you go home. But you learn a
lesson quickly. Either you detach yourself from the
system and leave the country or you change. The celebrated
Iranian cinema was an outcome of this pressure. They
made the best out of the worst. A new language came
out of this.
CT: Maybe that explains
the success of Abbas Kiarostami and Shirin Neshat.
A symbolic language that everyone could relate to.
FM: Ambiguity is the
strongest weapon an artist has at their disposal.
You can play with the layers of interpretation and
avoid getting in trouble.
CT: Have things changed
or deteriorated after the last parliamentary elections
that strengthened the conservatives?
FM: I haven’t been
in Iran since the elections but I don’t think
we will see visible changes. Possibly some of the
funding will be cut to renovate mosques but most of
us artist work with little money so we aren’t
really dependent on official or government funding.
Also I don’t think you can turn the wheel back
anymore. What Khatami did was create a climate of
tolerance and democracy that can’t be ignored.
Of course artists are being closely watched. Although
I haven’t heard of any direct threats or attacks
but rather subtle threats, strange phone calls. People
politely saying, “Why do you do this?”
“You should think twice” Nonetheless we
have artists who openly criticize the regime and have
been tolerated so far.
CT: Do you expect negative
repercussions and a backlash if this exhibition in
Berlin creates strong criticism when you go back?
FM: I don’t think
so. Not immediately anyway. It would be too risky
to look like the bad guy as long as there is public
attention on this exhibition. They will probably react
coolly and try to ignore it.