Leadership Conference 2015 Review: Future of Arts in Iran

artsWashington, DC – Sanctions have taken a toll on Iranian artists, according to Melody Safavi, the lead singer of the Iranian Swedish alternative band Abjeez, speaking on an arts panel at the National Iranian American Council’s 2015 Leadership Conference.

When people have less money to spend, Safavi observed, art is one of the first luxuries sacrificed. “Art is not a necessity in a society that is suffering from sanctions,” she said. “[P]eople don’t need to buy art and they don’t need to go to concerts and movies” and it is the artists who suffer.

Moreover, she said, artists who choose to make their art public must stay within certain guidelines and often sacrifice their true voice in order to make a living. “One way to solve this issue and help the artists to get out of this dilemma might be…to get Iran out of isolation and open the doors to collaboration with the rest of the world”.

Ahmad Kiarostami, an Iranian multimedia artist and NIAC board member, expressed his wariness on the panel of what might come in the immediate future for the art scene following the Iran deal. The current scene has changed rapidly but, in the aftermath of the historic nuclear accord that many expect to usher in a new era,  Iran’s government will want to show they still have control. “Their message is: don’t think anything has changed,” said Kiarostami.

Mohammad Aghebati, an Iranian theater director, discussed the impact of censorship on Iranian art. He offered that he does not believe it hurts artists’ expression as much as some might think. Censorship is not unique to Iran, Aghebati noted, but affects artists all over the world. Iranian artists deal with it and still find ways to create art.

Kiarostami agreed that censorship has even generated a whole new form of creativity. Safavi noted the prohibitions on female singers, bans on popular or western music, and restrictions against male-female contact, and panel moderator, Dr. Karimi-Hakkak, highlighted how artists have found their way around some bans creatively – such as by using a male background singer in a song by a female artist.

Still, Aghebati acknowledged, artists in Iran have much to deal with and many have been moving out for years to pursue their art elsewhere. He expressed optimism that a new generation of Iranian artists can establish themselves in Iran by using their access to information through the internet to help curate their art. Change is happening every day, he summarized, and will continue to happen after the deal is implemented, so artists must look at the glass as half full and use art as a tool for breaking boundaries.

Dr. Karimi-Hakkak predicted that the lively atmosphere in Iran’s art world to continue expanding as the nuclear deal moves forward. He also noted the importance of artists creating pieces as a document to leave behind so future generations can understand the atmosphere of a specific time, which could be particularly interesting in the coming years if the Iran deal leads to broader changes in Iranian society.

Kiarostami urged that artists must push onwards and take the opportunity to change the future of arts. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, he said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

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