‘Urban Iran’ Helps Lift the Veil

BY Arts Desk  January 8, 2009 at 2:45 PM EST

“What we are experiencing now is a re-emergence of art in Iran,” writes photographer Sina Araghi in “Urban Iran,” a collection of essays, photography, art and illustrations from Iranian artists in Tehran and abroad.

In an interview earlier this week, writer and “Urban Iran” creative director Charlotte Noruzi agreed: “The spirit of innovation, and you could say, rebellion even revolution … is very alive there, but it is creative, rather than destructive.”

“Urban Iran” credits the generation raised after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 with this creative spirit. After Ayatollah Khomeini led the overthrow of the Shah and declared Iran an Islamic Republic, the country shifted. The post-Revolution generation has learned to express themselves with few resources, access or media freedoms.

“There are all these things happening sort of under the radar,” said Noruzi, who was born in Tehran, but moved to America in 1977. “They’re unstoppable.”

[Listen to Noruzi talk about “Urban Iran” in this narrated slide show.

The stories told in the book are as diverse as they are idiosyncratic: How can Iran’s political history be traced in past beard styles versus today’s “renegade beardlets”? How can one car, the French-born but Iranian-copied Peugeot 206, be both a vehicle for authorities’ suspicions and Iranians’ dreams of a better life?

“Urban Iran” was developed as an international collaboration with contributors from across the world, including Tehran, Europe and the United States. Noruzi contacted the Iran-based illustrators and artists featured in the book and worked closely with the book’s designer, Eliane Lazzaris.

“Urban Iran” confirms what many already know: Creative expression in Iran has long been a struggle. Despite much international acclaim, Iranian filmmakers have had to find inventive ways to skirt government authority and censorship. Jafar Panahi, an Iranian director, personally smuggled films out of Iran to play at festivals like Cannes, where they have garnered awards and accolades. But to this day many have never been shown in Iran.

Other Iranian expatriates, like Marjane Satrapi in France, examined Iran from outside its borders. Satrapi’s graphic novel about her youth and the Iranian Revolution, “Persepolis,” was adapted into a film in 2007 and nominated for an Academy Award.

Noruzi believes “Urban Iran” captures this spirit of perseverance in Iran. “Young artists are trying to give a wakeup call to their fellow countrymen saying, ‘Let’s look a little deeper here. …We deserve to be known and seen and we’re tired of living under the veil.”