The Amsterdam-Tehran connection: Ali, Atousa, Katrin, Gwenneth, Lilet, Amirali G, Lise, Amirali M, Aida and Makan.
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For us Sidewayers, the biggest question of all was how our works were perceived. Three out of six group members were present: Atousa, Katrin and myself, Nickel. Lilet and Gwenneth had come with us, both out of curiosity and profession — so our group comprised five westerners, and we sure felt like that.
Imagine coming from a safe and self-contained country like the Netherlands, where applying for arts funding is considered a self-evident cause, where you could continue making art endlessly without any big worries besides having a writer’s block occasionally, where you didn’t learn anything in school about the history of the Middle East, let alone Iran — and picture yourself contemplating whether the works you want to show will function in Iran, or that it will even be possible to show them without any form of self-censorship. As little as I could form an image of Tehran before I went, constituted how clueless I was about what I would show. So at the four-hour long opening all I kept thinking was: reactions please.
Part of the reaction we received was an unspoken one: it struck me to see how many visitors actually paid close attention to the works: far more than I’m used to in Europe. It might have had something to do with the absence of alcohol, but still: I observed people watching both videos entirely, reading entire texts, studying the catalogue, and watching the artworks from many angles, close and far. To me this was part of the satisfaction of the opening.
The spoken part of the reaction came the night after the opening, when four of our group held a little presentation, and we were lucky to find curator and driving force Amirali Ghasemi willing to translate everything we said into Persian. Once we had done our little say, something which was more or less scripted, there was a very much unscripted discussion which turned out very nice.
The thing that stood out for me, was that we did not really get comments on the works, but were much rather asked questions about our perception of Iran and the way the prospect of this exhibition had influenced us in our process. It was a little like us asking the audience: so? And in turn, the audience asking us: so? There was a general understanding that both parties depended on each other to reach a conclusion — it didn’t come from one side. The talking session was all about getting informal (that is, very personal) information out of everybody.
However difficult to summarise it, the conclusion I drew is that the works were all very much functioning in this context, and that it was somehow very important to the people in the room that we as group members had influenced each other and that we had made different works than we would have shown anywhere else but in Iran.
Indeed, the image we had of Iran has played a large role in our processes, and we have certainly adapted our works for this context. For me personally, it has been very important to be able to work in Tehran, with the people and the means available there, to finalise one of my works (however sketchy it remained): Re-enaction, an audio piece with English and Persian texts.
I really felt that, with 70% of the population under 30, there is a large group of people roughly the same age I have, who are eager to meet, help, and even leave Iran, in order to reach out and have an artistic interaction with people from abroad. I found this energy truly inspiring and would like to thank everybody who visited the exhibition and was involved in it. It goes for all of us that we would not have wanted to miss one bit of this. Now, not only the image we had of Iran has influenced us, but also Iran itself.
Nickel van Duijvenboden