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2013/14 Cities: Tehran

Ida Meftahi, Organizer, IAH 2013-2014 Postdoctoral Scholar

Cities Tehran Poster

Almost all discussions of Iran in the United States are geopolitical. This is understandable, of course– but it is also regrettable, for what is not said and known about Iran in the U.S. The parameters of the said and known usually center on debates over sanctions, the status of Iran’s nuclear program, and the legacy of the 1979 revolution. But even that legacy, complex as it is, is discussed exclusively in political terms (internal repression or reform, regional rivalries and alliances) and almost never in cultural terms. This semester, drawing on the experience and expertise of IAH Postdoctoral Scholar Ida Meftahi (whose work concerns the history of dance in twentieth-century Iran, and who has put together this lineup of events), we hope to redress that oversight, and to contribute to a broader and deeper understanding of contemporary Iran and its history, beginning with its principal city– in dance, architecture, literature, and film.

Please join us for our four remaining events in the Cities: Tehran series. We hope to see you soon!


Fall 2013

Oct 2, 2013 
7:00 p.m. – Alumni Lounge, Nittany Lion Inn
From "Golden Age" to "Decadence": Women on the Lalehzar District Stage in Pre-Revolutionary Tehran
Ida Meftahi, IAH 2013/14 Post-doctoral Scholar

Some called Lalehzar Street “Tehran’s Champs-Élysées,” linking its creation to the Qajar ruler Nasir Al-Din Shah’s (1831–96) trips to France, while others compared it to the Quartier Latin district of Paris. For about four decades, “the street” was the main venue for the modernist cultural endeavours of the nationalist art scene, where several active amphitheatres resided next to printing houses and cinemas, as well as restaurants and cafés. The 1953 coup d'état, however, marks the demise of Lalehzar in most historical narratives of Iranian theatre, when dancers replaced actors, and comedy and juggling—instead of high art and “real” theatre—permeated the scene. This presentation explores the notions of “golden age” and “decadence” attributed to Lalehzar, vis-à-vis the (bio-) economy of female performers and the socio-political context of culture in pre-revolutionary Tehran.

Nov 13, 2013 
7:00 p.m. – John Bill Freeman Auditorium, HUB-Robeson Center 


In 1970s Iran, young Marjane 'Marji' Satrapi watches with her family as a dream is fulfilled, and the hated Shah's repressive regime is overturned in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. However, as Marji grows up, she finds that the new Iran, now ruled by Islamic fundamentalists?, has become a repressive tyranny in its turn. As Marji dangerously refuses to remain silent at the injustices she witnesses, her parents send her abroad to Vienna for a better, safer life. However, this proves to be an unexpected challenge, as the young woman finds herself in a different culture, surrounded by abrasive characters and profound disappointments that deeply trouble her. When she returns to Iran, Marji finds that she can't really go home again and the young woman and her loving family must decide where she truly belongs. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel.

Spring 2014

Jan 28, 2014 
Postponed to Feb 11, 2014 
7:00 p.m. – Palmer Lipcon Auditorium, Palmer Museum of Art 

"Transition of Public Space in Tehran" 
Babak Soleimany

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Tehran has always been the focal point of a constant conflict between some sections of Iranian society and the official culture sponsored by different governments. Addressing Iran’s social, cultural and political fluctuations in twentieth century, this lecture will examine the condition of public spaces in Tehran as an indicator of this conflicting relationship between socio-cultural values of society and government policies in cultural and urban policies. Highlighting two significant urban structures, “Traditional market of Tehran” and “Ekbatan Town”, contribution of public spaces in formation of the socio-cultural landscapes of Tehran is discussed.

Feb 20, 2014 
7:00 p.m. – 112 Borland 

ʺWhat a Spectacle:ʺ Cosmopolitan Tehran and Cinematic Imaginaries in the Twentieth Centuryʺ 
Golbarg Rekabtalaei

The proliferation of public spaces such as streets, squares, plazas, theatres, guesthouses, and cinemas in Tehran were for the most part shaped by and for the congregation of diasporic groups. The introduction of cinema spaces in Tehran, combined with the cosmopolitan imaginations that they fostered, further prompted the construction of hybrid cosmopolitan modern subjects in early twentieth century Tehran.

Mar 4, 2014 
7:00 p.m. – Palmer Lipcon Auditorium, Palmer Museum of Art

My Tehran for Sale (2009)
dir. Granaz Moussavi

Presented by Jonathan Brockopp and Ida Meftahi

Doors open at 6:30. Film running time is 96 mins.

Reception to follow, co-sponsored by Middle East Studies

My Tehran For Sale is an internationally acclaimed 2009 Australian-Iranian feature film written and directed by avant-garde poet-turned-filmmaker Granaz Moussavi. The film explores the underground art scene of contemporary Tehran, focusing on the life of a young actress who has been banned from her theater work. Struggling to pursue her passion in art as well as her secret lifestyle in a socially oppressed environment, Marzieh meets Iranian-born Saman at an underground rave; Saman offers her a way out of her country and the possibility of living without fear, and Marzieh has to make a decision about her identity– and her survival.

Mar 27, 2014 
7:00 p.m. – Palmer Lipcon Auditorium, Palmer Museum of Art 

ʺAddressed to Tehran: The Making of an Urban Counterpublic.ʺ 
Babak Elahi

This talk examines the relationship between Tehran as a virtual social network, and Tehran as inhabited urban space. I argue that the website, (unlike more nostalgic representations of Tehran in both digital and analog media) bridged the gap between the virtual city and its lived experience. Based on interviews with Tehran Avenue's creators and writers, I explore the ways in which the website used digital technology and local space to form a public sphere around art and culture, and, by extension, politics. Especially in the realm of art and art exhibitions, Tehran Avenue reconciled an imagined Tehran with its built environment, brought the digital into dialogue with the "real," and situated the transnational within the local. This also allowed for the formation of an "aesthetic sphere" that had an activist function.

Apr 22, 2014 
7:00 p.m. – Palmer Lipcon Auditorium, Palmer Museum of Art 
Cities: Tehran Series
ʺMutual Comprehension and Hybrid Identities in the Tehran Bazaar: Reflections on Interviews and Interlocutors in Contemporary Iranʺ 
Arang Keshavarzian

This talk will reflect on extensive interviews and discussions with Tehranis, especially members of the mercantile community, or bazaaris. While my research project aimed at tracing the transformation of the Tehran Bazaar before, during, and after the 1979 revolution, many of my exchanges with people in and about the bazaar dwelled on what it meant to be an Iranian, American, and other real and perceived identities. These discussions were infused with attempts by both my interlocutors and myself to understand one another despite various different life trajectories and experiences. Ultimately, I will illustrate how these bazaaris actively participated in making our lives comprehensible by invoking their expectations, assumptions, and knowledge about me—my Iranian background, my upbringing in America, my education, my status as a young man, and other attributes they believed were critical. I will argue that this process of meaning-making and dialogue was not complete, certain, or uncritical for it acknowledged the pluralism of life and possibility of hybrid forms of being.