Q

Artists boycott high-profile Iranian arts festival in sympathy with Ukraine Airlines crash victims

'There is nothing to celebrate. We are in mourning,' says artist Barbad Golshiri. The boycotts have already led to the cancellation of the film festival's opening ceremony this weekend.

'There is nothing to celebrate. We are in mourning,' says artist Barbad Golshiri.

The work of Tehran-based international artist Barbad Golshiri responds directly to the constraints imposed by the Iranian government.

The Fajr Festivals are one of the most important cultural events in Iran, but the annual series of arts festivals could be in jeopardy as a growing number of Iranian and international artists boycott the events in honour of the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.

Rendered in a format often used in a traditional newspaper death notice, Barbad Golshiri's work The Untitled Tomb commemorates a political dissident who was denied an actual tombstone. The epitaph reads: "Here Mim Kaf Alif does not rest. He is dead. Layer beneath layer dead. Depth beyond depth. Each time deeper. Each death deeper. Stone upon stone. Each stone deeper. Each stone a death. Mim Kaf Mim Alif has no stone. Has never had. No trace of it [or, so be it]. Never in all deaths. December came and Mim Kaf Mim Alif was no longer [there]. Is not."

The state-sponsored festivals commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and feature poetry, visual arts, theatre, music, literature and film from the Middle Eastern nation and around the world.

The jewel in the crown is the Fajr Film Festival and the Fajr International Film Festival, which feature top Iranian films as well as works from the U.S., the United Kingdom and beyond.

The boycotts have already led to the cancellation of the film festival's opening ceremony this weekend, and some artists are speaking out about their motivation for the boycott.

Among them is Tehran-based artist Barbad Golshiri who has worked in photography, film, visual art and sculpture.

"The government issued false statements and they denied any responsibility for three days and they said it's 'scientifically impossible.' This comment was outrageous. So it so it triggered another series of protests," says Golshiri in an interview with q guest host Laurie Brown.

"So like other citizens, many Iranian artists, filmmakers, writers, sculptors, painters, cartoonists, thought that it was a body of lies and they could not submit to it," he says. "They should turn their backs on it and they did."

Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. At first Iranian officials denied the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, but later admitted that was the case. All 176 passengers and crew perished.

“You are celebrating the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. But there is nothing to celebrate. We are in mourning," says artist Barbad Golshiri. "If it's a celebration, we will not take part in it."

Most of the passengers were Iranian or Iranian-Canadian, and the incident spurred widespread protests across Iran.

Golshiri says many artists feel that presenting their works at the Fajr festivals is inappropriate following the tragedy and the government's response.

"You are celebrating the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. But there is nothing to celebrate. We are in mourning. If it's a celebration, we will not take part in it," says Golshiri on the line from Paris. "And it's not just Fajr, it's all the festivals."

Golshiri explains that some artists have chosen to go ahead with presenting their works at the festivals, arguing they fought hard to get to where they are, and that political change can be made from within. "But many think that's no longer possible," says Golshiri. "In my eyes, it's no longer possible."

But the boycott also comes with significant risks: Golshiri says artists have received threats that, if they participate, they could lose permission to continue their work. In his interview on q, Golshiri is careful in the words he chooses.

"But my colleagues, they didn't agree to those hideous, hideous terms. So the ministry thought it's best if they postponed it. And they did postpone it," says Golshiri. "That was the card they could play. They had to."

Like other citizens, many Iranian artists, filmmakers, writers, sculptors, painters, cartoonists, thought that it was a body of lies and they could not submit to it. They should turn their backs on it and they did.- Tehran-based artist Barbad Golshiri

Although it's a time of tragedy, upheaval and uncertainty in Iran, Golshiri says it has unified artists in a way they haven't been before.

"There is a solidarity between artists and that marks something. We never had that," he says. "It's something many, many joined. People wrote letters. We signed petitions. So this solidarity is something that one can really embrace and build on for the days to come."

— Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Interview with Barbad Golshiri produced by Ben Edwards.

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