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Elie Wiesel, the Queen and I — a surreal night

A friend told me over lunch yesterday, “You should just write a book about all that is happening at the book signing!” Her comment is quite on target….I have had the most wonderful and surreal experiences at my book events.

Just this week my book tour took me to New York, where good friends Nazee and Joe Moinian hosted a fabulous and elegant cocktail party at the Plaza Hotel. One Hundred and fifty friends, family, and colleagues came to the signing, which was a huge success.

There were two people whom I have always admired, attended and supported the event.

Her Majesty, Queen Farah Pahlavi and her daughter-in-law, Yasmine attended this event.  Her Majesty had the kindest words to say about the book and the role of Iranian artists in the Persian culture, especially in the diaspora.   This event was surely not about politics, as my book is not about politics either. Her Majesty’s presence had the added significance since as a child I have always regarded her as a symbol of a modern Iranian woman—one who is intelligent, articulate, and concerned for the larger community.  I also know of her great passion for art, which inspires me to this day.  As she put it in her eloquent way, “People who show the good face of Iranians, who elevate us, are the jewel of the country”. I was touched and humbled that she included me in that group.

Elie Wiesel, the Noble Laureate and Holocaust survivor has always been a hero to me. His life and his message surpass the limits of race or religion.  He speaks out against violence, repression, and racism all over the world and always stresses the dangers of society’s indifference in relation to such matters.  How amazed I was to have him  attend the NY book signing. Again, another “pinch-me” kind of moments where I felt so truly lucky to talk to him finally.

…..And the list of my many wonderful experiences continues.

Shirin Neshat wins directorial award at the Venice Film Festival

It goes without saying that I am a die-hard fan of Shirin Neshat’s work.  But after interviewing her for an article in the Huffington Post, I was even more impressed by her.

After garnering much international acclaim for her photography and her video art, she took herself and her art into new territory by directing a feature film for the first time.

The film, Women without Men, is a visually arresting film with great political undertones.

It is uncanny to see that the demonstration scenes depicted in the 1953 CIA backed coup d’etat bears strong resemblance to the demonstration clips that come out of present day Iran.  In an interview, Shirin, a Mousavi supporter, stated, “People have changed. The dictators have changed in form and shape and ideology. But the struggle continues today.”

On September 12th, Shirin Neshat, wearing her green Mousavi bracelet, held her Silver Lion Award in the closing ceremony of the Venice Film Festival.  We should all be so proud of this great artist and trailblazer. I hope others get to view this movie soon.

Iranian Art Explosion in New York

When I visited New York a few weeks back, I was pleasantly surprised by the city’s great interest and support of Iranian Art.  The Metropolitan Museum’s collection of Persian Art is one of the largest in the western world and just recently it was announced that a new gallery will be dedicated to showcase some of the Iranian masterpieces in the collection.  The Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Fund has made this possible and I can’t wait to see the legendary 15th century Book of Kings (Shahnameh) on view when the gallery opens in 2011.

I also went to the Chelsea Art Museum to view the exhibition—Iran Inside and Out.  This exhibition presented over 50 artists, half of whom live in Iran and half of whom live in a diaspora.  Of course I found this to be a timely exhibition not only because of the new wave of interest in Iran Art but also because it provides the viewer the ability to formulate his or her own views on what makes up the people of Iran.  What is most interesting is that the “diaspora artists” drew more references to their cultural heritage than those who live in Iran.  The work of the artists living in Iran seemed to be less culture-specific and what many people may say “Middle Eastern” in theme.  Indeed this exhibition gave me great insight into the aspirations and hopes of these artists, who used their art as a means of self-expression.

President Ahamadinejad and Opposition demonstrations on Quds Day

On Friday, September 18th, Jews all over the world went to synagogue and gathered to celebrate the eve of the Jewish New Year. Meanwhile, in Iran, thousands upon thousands took to the streets to rally against Israel on Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) Day.  In his Friday speech, Ahmadinejad once against denounced Israel and claimed that the Holocaust is a fabrication and a lie used by Jews to occupy  Palestinian Land.  Pro-government supporters chanted the usual– “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.

You can only imagine, as an Iranian –American Jew, I feel a deep sense of grief and loss.  Us, Iranian Jews, have no place in this tyrannical and fundamentalist government.  I also feel that all this rhetoric is just a way to rally around a fictitious enemy to distract the populace from the great inequities and human rights violations taking place in Iran.

At least there is a ray of hope in all this.  Ten of Thousands of opposition protestors used Quds Day as an excuse to march the streets of Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan and get their message across. They defied the government ban on demonstrations by chanting, “We are not here for Gaza and Lebanon. We are here to sacrifice ourselves for our country.”  September 18th marked the largest opposition demonstration seen in Iran since mid July.