Persia to Iran

September 21, 2013

Tehran

This is Sacred Defense Week in Iran, a commemoration of the Iran-Iraq war which occurred between 1980 and 1988.

The single key theme that keeps reinforcing itself since we arrived late last night is this, Iranians find ways to care for their culture and history in a variety of ways. All cultures do this, of course, but we are witnessing how that happens.

A 12th century blue pitcher, or ewer, with black painted decoration is included in a marvelous collection at the Glassware and Ceramics Museum of Iran. What is striking about this pitcher is that there are people depicted on it. Not a big deal? It is, because many Muslims across the globe do not use the human figure in any of their art. Iranians depart from this broader norm, preferring to maintain the Persian tradition. DSCF2002 2.11.01 PM

Persian gardens are among UNESCO’s intangible cultural spaces, and Iranians use their outdoor spaces for refreshment, always with water flowing in fountains to help create an oasis of cool air.

Iranian women do cover themselves in scarves and long outer garments that vary a great deal in color and patterns. Scarves often match the long-sleeved blouses, for example.

While touring the National Museum, I saw that Iran’s heritage combines Egyptian influences in building and engineering, as well as in the use of natural stones. In a stone staircase brought from Persepolis, artisans carved Persian archers and lancers into the interior side, while Persian and Median clergy brought animals for sacrifice on the exterior side. Surely these figures and others collected at evoke the most ancient complications in secular and religious leadership that are still very much a part of contemporary Iranian political life. Down the corridor from this installation was a tall figure of Darius the Great, a statue that had actually been made in Egypt. The inscription combined Egyptian hieroglyphics with Persian cuneiform writing, making me so curious about military and political stresses between the two civilizations in the late 6th and early 5th centuries BCE. DSCF1994In the same museum, numerous animal sculptures and animal-shaped pottery pieces reminded us again of the power that the bulls and other beasts carried for these ancient populations in what they provided for all sorts of needs.DSCF2001

Later in the day, a quick tour of the Contemporary Art Museum, enabled us to see the exhibit of the Saqqakhana Movement which showed renewed devotion to Islam in a very modern manner, painting and mixed media pieces completed in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the pieces utilized Farsi calligraphy in bold statements , among other approaches.

So, Iran’s cultural and political heritage shows a dramatic ability to reinvent, standing forcefully alongside major ancient and modern forces.

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