Monday 20 April 2009

Dinner With Svetlana

This is the second version of Dinner With Svetlana. The first I did in 2006 and it's featured on my website where you can also find the text in full. Svetlana is also another version of me. She is the Russian trafficked or prostituted woman I am often thought to be, especially when I stay in hotels on my own in Tehran or Shiraz. I couldn't escape this alternative identity so I just accepted her and began to find out who Svetlana was and is. My 'Svetlana' self doesn't exist only in Iran, she was also with me throughout Eastern Europe and in London. This is the version I made for the Esfahan show. I had to change a couple of the words which were not considered 'decent,' although no one seems to mind too much about the trafficking.

Sunday 19 April 2009

A Tale of Two Ministries

For the foreign visitor, arriving in Esfahan in Spring does make you wonder if you died suddenly and got catapulted into Heaven. However, Esfahan is also a large industrial city. It sprawls and belches gross sulphuric yellow pollution, which hangs in a thick cloud at the periphery, a cloud so dense that even on an otherwise clear day, the city is not visible as you enter it from the South side. It is entirely concealed under the suffocating blanket of smog. This is Esfahan’s ‘other side’. There’s plenty more to add to add to that, but not in this post.

So, what of the exhibition?

Well, it hasn’t been cancelled, exactly, nor postponed, exactly. It has suffered from a bout of bureaucratic incompetence, conniving and malevolent malfunctioning that makes its pollution seem almost harmless. Having laboured day and night for five months on no pay, and produced a body of work that I like to think might hold its own in a gallery, having organised the transport and written the catalogue and done everything I should have done, I was refused a visa. So, just to clarify this: a government institution, namely the Museum of Contemporary Art, Esfahan, invites me to do the show and asks me to sign a contract and the very same government refuses to allow either me or the exhibition to enter the country.

Arcane dealings
The Foreign Ministry, part of central government, doles out the visas. The Museum is under the jurisdiction of provincial government of Esfahan. The process was as follows:
FM to Museum, ‘Send us a copy of the official letter confirming the exhibition.’
Museum to FM. ‘No – bugger off!’
FM to Museum, ‘Send us a copy of the email you sent her inviting her to exhibit.’
Museum to FM. ‘No – I said NO, now bugger off!’
Museum to me, (snarling): ‘The FM is trying to trick us into being your host but we are forbidden to be the host to any foreign artist - VERY VERY forbidden’
Bureaucratic language note: ‘host’ means someone who ‘takes responsibility for you all the time that you are in Iran.’ Meaning: if you do anything ‘wrong’ it becomes the fault of the ‘host’. Tough on an individual, but something you might think an institution could tolerate.
Technically, as far as I can tell and as far as anyone can tell, the museum is indeed the host, but they’re having none of it.
My interpretation: Museum has got very cold feet, possibly because ‘foreign artist,’ in this case, is ‘British artist' and, since A’jad (Ahmedinejad) is preparing to get in the bed with Ooooooooo ba mast, (Obama) a new ‘great satan’ must be found as a matter of urgency and the old ‘great satan’ ie Britain, will do just fine. Bum. That ‘s all I’ve got to say – in this post anyway. Actually I’ve said quite a bit more but it’s all off blog, hence my prolonged silence in this space. Oooooo baa maast, btw, is how Obama's name reads when it's written in Farsi. In effect it divides into three words, which just happen to mean 'he's with us' - ok, strictly it's ooo baa maa, 'he with us,' but what's a 'st' between friends? Back in November 2008, last time I was in Iran, this was considered a thigh slappingly funny joke at the news stands in Tehran. It was pretty funny the first few times.

So what now?

So, in principle, it could all just wait till the election’s over and the dust and pollution settles and ‘they,’ whoever ‘they’ are, get a bit less paranoid about foreigners, especially foreigners who have something called a BBC in their country that does unspeakable things like report on what goes on in Iran - occasionally. And what of the planned triste between Ooooob and A’jad? Will they or won't they? Will Oooooob get Mr. Mousavi instead? What about that poor women (Roxana Saberi) they’ve just stuffed in gaol for god knows how long as a bargaining chip?
October 2003, Tehran, lobby of Naderi hotel, Hassan to me: ‘This really is the most lawless bloody place I’ve every encountered.’ (‘Hassan’ teaches Middle Eastern politics and law at a well-known British University)
October 2004, London, Afsane’s kitchen, watching the rice, Felora to me: ‘Iran would be a great place, Claudia, but the problem is there’s no law.’
The tale of two ministries suggested that even Iranian officials are utterly confused by their own legal bureaucracy, but the Tale of Roxana says that in April 2009, they’ve just declared war on their own legal system. Many would say they did that decades ago, but it hasn’t been quite so fully-paid-up, so shamelessly public for some years has it? Or am I just deluded?

To more important matters
Atefeh comes to mind, but they didn’t expect anyone outside Iran, outside Neka even, to notice– we did and we’re still angry by the way. Come to think of it, this year, August 15th, (?) is the fifth anniversary of her murder…
This is the Wikipeida entry for Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, it’s not bad as these things go. Here is a link to a blog about Atefeh with the youtube links to an American version of a documentary about her. There is also a BBC documentary, 'Execution of a Teenage Girl' available on youtube in five parts. Click here and type 'execution of a teenage girl' into 'search' to find the five pieces. Here’s one in French which is all in one, not in parts.