19 September 2016

عشقبازی را تحمل باید ای دل پای دار

گر ملالی بود بود و گر خطایی رفت رفت

Stand fast, O heart, and endure the play of love;
if blame occurred, and if mistake was made, it’s all gone!

Hafiz Ghazal #83

Iranians regularly consult their national poet in times of important decisions. Like a Persian I Ching, a verse from his Divan is selected, by opening a book at random, selected by soothsayers bird, or more often today with a smartphone app. Garland drew on the help of weaver Afsaneh Modiramani to perform this faal. Her book opened at Ghazal #83, a poem for the new year than advocates forgetting past wrongs.

It seems an auspicious selection at this point in world history, as sanctions are being lifted. Since the diplomatic mission of Shah Abbas (founder of Isfahan) in 1599, Persian culture has exerted great fascination for Western audiences, such as Goethe’s idealisation of the poet Hafiz and the influence of Persian carpet motifs in the tapestries of William Morris. This Persophilia changed with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, eventually casting Iran in the Axis of Evil. Films such as Argo depict Iran as overun by bearded men, with veiled women in the background

The geopolitical maths has since changed with the rise of Daesh, as Iranians become essential allies in Iraq’s struggle against terrorism. The return of Iran has great potential, not only for world peace, but also to recover a source of light in world culture. As often happens, craft enables respectful contact between nations despite political barriers. As the President of the World Crafts Council – Asia Pacific, Dr Ghada Hijjawi-Qaddumi says, “Peace, in all its forms, whether ‘inward’, embedded within the self, or ‘outward’, emerging from the surrounding environment, is an essential impetus for sensitive-creative people like artisans to bring forth the best of their talent.” In September, Iran hosts the General Assembly of the World Crafts Council in the majestic Isfahan. This world gathering is a fitting opportunity to celebrate the renewal of artistic dialogue between Iran and the West.

Garland tries to include voices from the place itself. We’re grateful for a number of Iranian writers who have shared their knowledge and stories. Some Western readers many examine their words carefully for evidence of the contemporary, as a space for individual re-interpretation of the past. As you will see, many Iranians do not see the world through a modernist lens. We should not discount their opinions because they focus on traditions. A productive way of approaching this material is to think of the traditional and modern as complementary: we navigate the present through the past as well as the future. 

Isfahan is represented through its signature craft, meenakari (enamel). The World Cities of Craft program of the World Crafts Council has highlighted the contribution of other cities. Mashhad is the subject of a new feature, Place Matters, which reflects how a craft community can develop around a local material (turquoise). Tabriz is the location for our Craft Classic, the perennial Persian carpet. And our Workshop of the World is Lalejin, one of Iran’s centres for pottery. We also feature Tehran’s Mahe Mehr Cultural Institute, which is a locus for burgeoning contemporary jewellery scene.

As well as creative life inside Iran, migrants from the country are playing an increasing role in the artistic life of the West. Our Quarterly Essay is by Garland Laureate Sanaz Fotouhi about the jewellery by Mehrnoosh Ganji, inspired by the architecture of Isfahan—both living in Melbourne. We look at how patteh embroidery is being taught in Adelaide through Guildhouse’s Traditional Crafts program. Our online exhibition Embellish includes not only beautiful craft work from Iran, but also artists of Iranian descent in other countries, those influenced by Iranian culture and others for whom the decorative is an important aspect of their work.

The other half of the issue covers a range of stories from region. The Parsis are migrants from Iran who settled in India and we have an article about the collaboration involving a Parsi ceramicist, Adil Writer. There are two from Sydney (Bankstown ceramics and the social lamellophone) and three related to Crafts Craft Cubed Festival, the Ceremonial, Kyneton ceramics and work inspired by the . We have a fascinating ceramics travelogue between Singapore and Japan, a foreign perspective on South Korea’s national flower and a reflection on the Queensland fibre world we touched on in the last issue.

There are two aspects of Iranian culture worth keeping in mind with this issue. Visitors to Iran are often overwhelmed by the generosity of their hosts. The Iranian ethic of courtesy, taharof, demands respect for the guest. To cope with being recipients of untoward generosity, Iranians have also many ways of saying thank you. The most common one is borrowed from the French (mersi), but an especially endearing phrase is hase nibashi, which literally means “don’t be tired”. This has particular importance in a country that has survived the difficulties of financial sanctions for nearly four decades.

Besides the wonders of Iranian craft techniques and skills, the world also has much to gain from the spirit of its culture—the value of the handmade object as a gesture in gift-giving, and the resilience necessary to keep a craft going when the economic conditions are weak.

Fear has gone, hope is coming.


Thanks to all those who supported this issue through our Persian Prospect campaign in the Australian Cultural Partnerships. We are very grateful to all those inside and outside Iran who helped gather materials for this issue, especially Tanya Dutt, Afsaneh Modirami, Narges Teimouri, Dr Omid Shiva, Pooya Mahmoudian, Rasool Sheikhzadeh, Hossein Valamanesh and Katayoun Javan. 

Here are some of the stories that led up to it.

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