Beginning of the Artistic Career
It was November 1997 that my wish to be accepted in the Faculty of Art and Architecture came true. Two years before that, I had dropped out of my electronic engineering studies and went to military service. As soon as I finished my service, I got accepted in my favorite field in the university I liked.
A year later, I joined one of the professional theater groups of the time in Iran “Tajrobeh Theater Group”; artists including Mehrdad Rayani Makhsous, Kiomars Moradi, Rahman Seifi Azad, and Sepideh Nazaripour were among the members of the group. There are few groups in Iran that perform continuously, and membership in one of these groups is a good advantage for a novice artist.
In 1999, my university friends and I staged a play titled "The Call" written by William Inge, in which, I worked as a set designer and also played the supporting role. As the director of the play was a woman, it participated in the 2nd Women's Theater Festival and we won two awards: the best set design award for me and the best actor for Ashkan Khatibi.
In the same year, together with the Tajrobeh Theater Group, we staged the play "The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad" written by the well-known Iranian director and playwright Bahram Beyzai and directed by Kiomars Moradi first at the Fajr International Theater Festival (the most prestigious theater festival in Iran, registered at the ITI, which has been held for 38 years now), and then at the Sayeh Hall of the City Theater (Iran's largest and most prestigious theater complex). The play was very well received. I was the first assistant director in the play that featured artists who are now prominent figures in the Iranian art: Mohsen Tanabandeh (famous director and actor of Iran cinema and TV), Ali Sarabi (well-known director and actor of Iran theater), Payam Foroutan (assistant professor and set designer of Iran cinema and theater), Kaveh Ahanin Jan (Iranian TV and theater actor) ...
In the following years, I cooperated with the same group in the same position, and we staged the plays "The Lesson" written by Eugene Ionesco (play reading), "The Charm of the Burnt Temple", "Secrets and Lies", "Dream in an Empty Cup" and "Making Faces" both at the Fajr International Theater Festival and the City Theater. We were one of the most active and popular groups of our time. Among these works, “The Charm of the Burnt Temple” was invited to the Bombay Theater Festival. Two other plays “Dream in an Empty Cup” and “Making Faces” were invited to the Bharat Rang Mahotsav or the National Theater Festival, organized by National School of Drama, in New Delhi, and were well received. The festival lasted for 15 days and featured works from Germany, the Netherlands, Korea, Iran, Japan, Poland and France.
“Making Faces” was also performed in Paris in 2004.
Our group also received several awards at various festivals including:
2004 - Award for the best foreign play at the 6th National Theater Festival of National School of Drama, for the play "Making Faces";
2003 - Best Director Award for the play "Dream in an Empty Cup" at the Fajr International Theater Festival;
2001 - Honorary Diploma for the play "The Charm of the Burnt Temple" at the India Theater Olympiad, an international festival of theater, dance and music in the city of Cuttack;
2000 - Third Prize for Best Director for the play "The Charm of the Burnt Temple" at the Fajr International Theater Festival;
1999 - Best Director Award by theater critics for “The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad” at the Fajr International Theater Festival;
“Making Faces”, which is considered one of the best and most popular plays in the history of Iranian theater, later went on stage in one of Tehran's halls for 4 consecutive months and was a box office success. Written by Naghmeh Samini and directed by Kiomars Moradi, the play compared the historical events of the 1953 Iranian coup d'état (known in Iran as the 28 Mordad coup d'état) and the Iranian student protests of July 1999 (Also known as 18th of Tir and Kuye Daneshgah Disaster) in a narrative form. I was the director from the second repertoire. A video-recording of the play was prepared, and became a bestseller of its kind. It has been re-released in the market for several times.
Then, in 2006, as a director's consultant, I cooperated in the puppet show "The Three Little Pigs" written by Azadeh Sohrabi and directed by Afsaneh Zamani, which was staged at the International Children and Youth Festival in Turkey.
My first independent activity in the theater dates back to 2003 and directing play reading session of the play "Wet People" at City Theater Complex, which won the title of the most watched play-reading session of the year. The play was written by Omid Sohrabi and the cast included Hamid Mozaffari, Maedeh Tahmasbi, Pantea Bahram, Hamed Behdad and Ashkan Khatibi. Hamid Mozaffari and Maedeh Tahmasebi are among the veteran artists in the Iranian theater, Pantea Bahram was the star of Iranian theater at the time, and Hamed Behdad and Ashkan Khatibi are superstars of Iranian cinema and theater.
In 2002, I participated in the play “Death and the Maiden” directed by Ashkan Khatibi, as a dramaturge and actor, and we staged 30 performances at the Iranian Artists' Forum. Ashkan Khatibi and Negar Javaherian were the other actors in the play and Narmin Nazmi was the set designer. The play is written by Ariel Dorfman and tells the story of a woman during Pinochet's dictatorship.
My next experience was directing the play "Pause" written by Omid Sohrabi at the Iranian Theater Week celebration, which has been organized by the Iranian Theater Forum annually for the past 17 years. Behnam Tashakkor, Ashkan Khatibi and Neda Maghsoudi were in the cast. Behnam Tashakkor is currently one of the superstars of Iranian television.
For my next work as a director, I staged the play “The Waiter” at the Anton Chekhov Commemoration Festival in 2005. The text of the play was written by Omid Sohrabi with an idea of mine and inspired by a short story Raymond Carver. Gholamreza Tabatabai, Afsaneh Mahian, Ashkan Khatibi and Reza Afshar acted in the play. Other directors who showed their works in the festival included: Atila Pesyani, Mohammad Rahmanian, Hassan Majouni and Azim Mousavi.
In 2011, I staged another play by Omid Sohrabi titled “Magnificent Punishment” at the Hafez Theater Hall. I also did the set design for the play in which Kaveh Ahanin Jan and Faqiheh Soltani played. The play was symbolically about a couple living in a totalitarian atmosphere that eventually led to their disobedience to the ruling system. Unfortunately, on its 18th night on the stage, the play was prevented from further performances under false pretenses.
In 2013, I staged the play “About L.A.”, written by Amir Reza Talachian, for 3 months at the Paryn Theater House. In addition to directing, I also played a role in the work. I selected the other actors from among young talented people working in that theater house. Among them, Shadi Asadpour currently teaches acting at Tehran University of Art, and Rad Pourjabar has continued acting. The play was about Iranians immigrating to the United States and a sense of losing their cultural identity that they suffered from. The play had 70 performances and was well received by the audience, but the Evaluation and Supervision Council of the General Directorate of Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, prevented its continuation.
As I mentioned before, in 2014, as the director's consultant together with the Tajrobeh Theater Group, we staged “Making Faces” again at the Shams Theater Hall (affiliated to the ECO Cultural Institute) for three months, which was named the best-selling play of the season.
However, my work in the theater became limited for various reasons, including political problems, and I was not allowed to perform and stage plays anymore. I continued my activities in theater as the public relations manager of some plays including "Dirty Hands" written by "Jean Paul Sartre" and directed by Massoud Mousavi, "Tiola" written and directed by Ali Abedi, “Who’s Mr. Schmitt?" Written by Sebastien Thiery and directed by Sohrab Salimi among others. In the meantime, I wrote "Haji Baba Jan's Son" and directed it as a play reading session and secretly performed it at the Baharan Cultural Institute at its private invitation.
I have been a member of the Iranian Theater Forum since its foundation. First I was a member of the Critics, Writers and Researchers Association. At a time I was elected as a Board member. I was once awarded the Medal of Honor of the ITF for being an active member of the Critics Association. I also received a letter of commendation in 2006.
Early in the 1998, while studying and working in theater, I was attracted to the press and media and started working in the cultural and artistic sectors. First in Soroush Weekly, which was the publishing house of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, and then in other newspapers and magazines such as Bahar, Jame'e No, Bidar, Art Quarterly, Gozaresh-e Film, etc.
It was about a year that I was working full-time in Gozaresh-e Film magazine that suddenly it was shut down by a government decree. Shahram Zargar was the editor-in-chief of the magazine, but all the affairs were managed by Houshang Asadi and Nooshabeh Amiri. The two were among the country's experienced journalists who had been excluded from state-run newspapers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution because of leftist tendencies.
A few months after my unemployment, I was hired as a part-time art reporter at Khabar international daily, and two years later I was appointed head of the newspaper's art page.
I continued my press activities in the Iranian Academy of Arts. After working in the internal publication of the academy as the secretary of the editorial board, I became the editor-in-chief of Ayeneh Khyial magazine that belonged to the academy. Twelve issues of the magazine were published under my editorship, but unfortunately it was closed in 2009 following a series of political events.
In the field of journalism, I received a plaque of appreciation from the General Directorate of Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture, as the best reporter of the year.
Public Relations Experience
My most serious public relations experience came in 2002 from the public relations management of the Free Cinema Festival. The festival was organized by a group of independent filmmakers who were not affiliated to any institutions or organizations.
The Free Cineastes Association is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was registered in March 1999 and officially started working under the slogan "Free Cinema, A Cinema for All" in March 2000. Those years in Iran, all artistic activities, including festivals, were carried out by the government, and such a festival organized without the presence and intervention of the government was a new one. Many of the people involved in that festival are prominent artists in Iranian cinema and theater today: Amir Aghaei, Mehdi Rakhshani, Mehdi Karampour, Nooshabeh Amiri, Parand Zahedi, etc.
The secretary of the festival was Mehdi Rakhshani, and I was in charge of the public relations and advertising of the festival and did my best to turn it from a small and limited festival into a well-known one. At that time I was a journalist and worked as the head of the cultural service of Khabar international daily.
A year later in 2003, the Iranian Academy of Arts, headed by Mir Hossein Mousavi, offered me a job to work at the General Directorate of Public Relations. After negotiations, I first entered the academy as an expert, and after two years, I was given the position of the deputy director general. Two years later, in early 2005, after the former director general of the department was dismissed, I first became the caretaker of the department and then I was officially appointed as the director general of public relations at the Iranian Academy of Arts.
While I was there, besides daily affairs, several domestic and international projects were carried out in the academy, and in all of them I was the director of public relations: International Conference on Isfahan School, International Conference on School of Shiraz, the Forgotten Arts Conference, International Conference on Jiroft Civilization, Conference on the Writing of Shahnameh, International Conference on Abdul Qader Maraghi, Painting Biennial, Miniature Biennial, Cartoon Biennial, etc.
I worked very hard in that position for 5 years until Mir Hossein Mousavi entered the race for president in 2009 and I announced my readiness to participate in his campaign and started working as the director of advertising in his campaign. In the middle of the campaign, I launched the Green Movement with the help of other staff members, and for the first time in Iran, I used social media for the campaign and I had interviews with local and foreign news agencies about the issue.
As everybody knows, the 2009 election ended to the detriment of our campaign with the intervention of the military and government forces, and we, the campaign activists, were accused of political crimes against the system. In 2010, due to political actions and the uprising of the Green Movement in Iran, Mir Hossein Mousavi was removed from his post as the head of the Academy of Arts and was imprisoned at his home along with his wife, which still continues to this day. As an activist in his election campaign, I was dismissed from my position at the academy by his successor, and in 2011 I was appointed deputy director of exhibition affairs at the Saba Cultural and Artistic Institute (that owns the largest gallery in the Middle East). During the next years, I was called to the Ministry of Intelligence several times and was interrogated.
In addition to the routine activities such as holding the Fajr Visual Arts Festival at Saba Institute, my colleagues and I organized specialized exhibitions and workshops that reminded of the genuine Iranian art and promoted the culture and cultural taste of the artists.
In 2014, after three years of working at the institute and despite causing positive changes and productivity, I was surprisingly sent back to the Academy of Arts, and a few months later was expelled due to differences between my religious and political views with those of the Islamic Republic and incompatibility with the requirements of a Muslim executive.
I was accused for ignorance of religious details, failure to perform religious duties in public, not participating in religious and governmental programs, opposition to Islamic laws, and obstinacy with the Islamic Republic.
After that, my activities in Iran were always influenced by my presence in the election campaign and belonging to the Green Movement. Most of the time, I was deprived of the opportunity to work in governmental and semi-governmental centers when their officials learned about my background. My tenure in private companies also depended on the resistance of managers to external pressures, and was only possible as long as the managers could withstand the pressures.
After the Academy of Arts, at the invitation of a friend, I joined the Great Ibn Sina Cultural Institute as the director of public relations and social media, which is the publisher of Sepid Newspaper (the only newspaper for doctors and medical staff in Iran), Salamat Weekly (the most widely circulated weekly about health for the general audience), and Zehn-e Mosbat (a monthly dedicated for mental health). However, after two years, for the reasons I mentioned above, I was forced to resign. I went to Mahan Net afterwards, but worked for only 4 months and then I joined the Daricheno Advertising Company. I worked there for less than a year and then I left the company. After a period of unemployment, I was invited to work at the Iranian Theater Forum (a theater group in Iran) by Asghar Hemmat, the managing director of ITF, and started working as the public relations manager.
I have been the public relations manager at the 15th and 16th Iranian Theater Commemoration Week. I have also worked as the public relations consultant for the secretary of Fajr International Theater Festival in one edition. I was the founder of social networks and the new website of the ITF, and for the first time since the establishment of the forum, I converted the paper files of the members to digital ones.
In the meantime, I also did part-time activities in the field of public relations, for example at the Classic and Race Cars Exhibition that was held for a week at the Iran Car Museum and the Dragon Boat Racing Competition at the Azadi Sports Complex.
Paryn Art Group; from the beginning until now
Why Paryn Group was created
I have always believed that in our country, and perhaps in most other countries, economics of the arts can become like the usual form of other economics activities if only art returns to its origin and plays a role in people's lives. That is, as in the past, when most works of art had practical applications in human life, artworks become practical again.
Such an approach towards art has never been easy; On the one hand, today's artists have no intention and desire to abandon their position in the society as a special class so they never turn to the production of artworks with functions in everyday life. On the other hand, as the price of artworks that can be used for a specific purpose is usually high and they are not produced in large quantities, people who are accustomed to buy products that are found everywhere and on a low price are not interested in purchasing such works of art.
So I decided to go on this way until I reach the final destination; It was at this time (2011) that I founded the Paryn Art Group. Paryn in Persian means "attributed to the past", which was my approach to earn from art. At first, only my younger sister, who was a student in art field, and I were members of the group, but later more people entered the group; Mehran Zamani (painter and graphic designer), Hojjat Amani (painter and researcher), Ashkan Khatibi (actor and theater director), and Omid Sohrabi (playwright) were among them.
To begin witI, I thought of taking the artworks out of galleries and exhibitions. The public opinion of the Iranian people suggested that the presence of artworks in certain places, besides giving them glory, shows an inaccessible image of the works and keeps the public away from facing them. The visitors of the galleries are artists, art students, collectors and enthusiasts (in a very small proportion) respectively, so at this stage, instead of taking people to see the works of art, it is necessary to take the artworks to the people and where is better than a restaurant!
First move; an exhibition in a restaurant
To put this idea into practice, in the first move, with the cooperation of my new teammate Hojjat Amani, we collected artworks by artists in various fields of art (painting, calligraphy, gilding, sculpture, needlework, pottery, cashmere embroidery, etc.) to put on show in a restaurant. The restaurant manager was Ashkan Khatibi, a friend of mine during my studies, with whom we collaborated in some plays; And as I thought, he understood the purpose of my project.
The reason I had for my work was that restaurant guests spend a fair amount of time at the restaurant; considering the fact that while eating with family or friends, they clear their minds of the daily worries and relax themselves, if they are exposed and introduced to artworks at this appropriate time, they may be inclined to buy them. Therefore, along with the food menu, we also provided them with a brochure of the exhibited works, so that in addition to selecting their food, they would also pay for a work of art.
Due to the large space of the restaurant, we collected about 40 works, from paintings and sculptures to traditional artworks and handicrafts.
To do this, we first needed to inform the artists about the purpose of the move, so that in addition to getting their approval to let their works be display at a non-artistic environment, they would trust us to give us their works on loan. In addition, we persuaded them to put lower prices on their works, unlike the higher prices given in art galleries, so that the first move in the economic aspect would bear fruit, although we ourselves were not after income and profit at this stage.
Moreover, we had to prepare the restaurant for the complete and correct presentation of the works of art and equip it with proper lighting and other necessary accessories, so that the main purpose, which was to present the artworks, would be realized. The exquisite brochure of the works was also prepared and printed, among other things.
After six months of preparations, on a glorious night and in the presence of the artists who created the works and other guests, the exhibition was opened and was well received. The next day, the press covered the exhibition, and the audience of the exhibition and the restaurant guests merged, leaving a good memory of the move.
The exhibition lasted for three months and was visited by dozens of people, and about 10 works were purchased by visitors. I doubt if there had been such an experience in other parts of the world until then, but I am sure it was the first of its kind in Iran.
Second move, applied artwork: wearables
The first product I came across in research for the idea of injecting art into people's lives was clothing. On the one hand, it was possible to use the art of artists of different fields in the making of clothes, and on the other hand, clothing was needed and welcomed by the public. I knew that in this move, approaching the fashion industry was a wrong action that could not help at all; because having access to fashion industry products, like artworks, was not believable for ordinary people. I had to walk on a thin line between the two, ordinary clothing and fashion products. But I was sure of one thing, a limited number of the products, or even their uniqueness, would keep me on the edge of an artwork.
My sister Bahareh Mortezavi was just graduated from the Tehran University of Arts in costume and fabric design and had the passion and freedom of thought and action as a student. So she and one of her friends (Sona Keshavarz) became the artists for my new project: "Exhibition of Formal Attire using African Motifs."
The idea of the exhibition was to print African art designs on fabric and design women's formal attire using these designs. To do this, in addition to conducting research and designing clothes and fabrics, it was necessary to have a silk-printing workshop and a tailor’s, all of which were done with great effort and expense. In the middle of the work, we realized that the idea could be extended to other items such as scarves and bags, and even cushions, tablecloths and bedspreads. Finally, about 30 formal dresses and 20 semi-formal dresses, 20 bags, 15 scarves and 20 cushions, bedspreads and tablecloths were made as the result of our one-year efforts.
An ordinary empty apartment was decorated to display the works. The exhibition was successfully opened and in about a week, despite the relatively higher price of the works, almost all of them were sold and gave us more hope to continue our path.
Three features were observed for the exhibition:
- There is only one sample of all works.
- Perhaps for the first time in Iran, all the works were presented with complete information about them such as their designers, etc.
- Similar to all art exhibitions, the products were delivered to buyers after the exhibition.
Third move, turning to dolls
During the exhibition, I met artists who created unique dolls with yarn and string. The positive features of the products were that none of them were the same and were produced with harmless yarns for children. This is where the spark for my third exhibition struck me: the exhibition of hand-woven yarn dolls.
Immediately and after negotiations with these young artists, we purchased the needed materials and started making the dolls with the help of young artists. After 3 months we created enough dolls to set up an exhibition.
We organized the exhibit in the same place (the apartment) with a different decoration. The opening day was very crowded and during the one week it was held, more than two-thirds of the works were sold; and the rest of the works were purchased after the exhibition. It was another success for me and my group and another motivation to keep working.
Next exhibition, wearables again
At this time, our country was in a tough economic situation and people's purchasing power had drastically declined. We needed to slow down a bit, but we did not want to stop, so we started preparations for a new exhibition. After a few meetings with a number of designers, we agreed on semi-formal attire with Iranian graphic motifs and the project began. Compared to the previous projects, the production of the works was more difficult this time. The price of materials had increased sharply due to the rising dollar in Iran, and in addition, tailors and other workers demanded higher wages. So in parallel with the project, I founded Paryn Theater House, the first private theater hall in Tehran with an artistic approach.
Paryn Theater House; initiator of the rise of private theaters in Iran
What later became known as the Paryn Theater House was actually a relatively large basement in an old mansions. The Mostazafan Foundation of Islamic Revolution usually announced auctions for renting its premises, and this basement was part of an auction too. With the idea of establishing a theater house, I attended the auction, and the basement was rented to me. Then, with great effort huge spending, I turned the basement into a small theater hall for 100 people with a one-sided stage. It was very small compared to the government halls with a 7.5*4.5 square meter stage and a ceiling at 3 meters high, which made the installation of a projector difficult.
Prior to the opening of this theater, the Iranian artistic plays were limited to governmental and semi-governmental halls. Due to the small number of state-run and municipal theater halls, many artists usually waited for several months and years to stage their works; some even gave up due to the long time they had to wait. Few private theaters, mostly old cinemas, staged comedy shows that were different from the artistic plays. Within a month and a half after I got the basement, the theater hall was ready for operation and began with the staging of plays for children and young adults. The theater community soon learned about the establishment of the hall and the preparations for the first professional performance were made: "Kabous Nameh" (Nigthtmares) by Vahid Rahbani. It was an unconventional play that was welcomed by the audience. The spectators had to enter the hall blindfolded and could not take off their blindfolds until the end of the performance. They experienced the play through their other senses such as hearing, smell and touch. Following the successful performance of the play during 30 nights, it was extended for 10 more performances. Since the hall did not have the usual bureaucracies existing in the state-run halls, the demand for performances in the hall increased and it stayed two performances per day. Thus, during the day, the theater house hosted specialized literary and artistic workshops as well as rehearsal sessions, and from the evening onwards, the plays were performed on its stage. During one year, the theater hall hosted more than 20 plays. The fame of the hall spread throughout the city soon and even the former president and his ministers came to this small hall to see the performances. The establishment of this theater hall motivated other interested parties, and little by little, more private halls opened in Tehran and then their number in Iran began to increase. Now there are about 30 private theaters only in Tehran.
Given my political background in the 2009 election, there was a high sensitivity on this hall: for example, as the director of the Paryn Theater House, I had to answer several times to museum officials and the Evaluation and Supervision Council why the president who had been in power for eight years, has purchased a ticket to watch a show in a small hall! Getting any performance permit had become an unequal battle for me and the directors (in Iran, we have to get multiple permits from various organizations). Museum officials (the location of the Museum of Time Theater House, built in one of Tehran's old buildings) also watched every performance before staging along with the respected reviewers of the Supervision Council and considered themselves obliged to comment. The performance of "Mortician" written by Mehrdad Rayani Makhsous in the hall was banned by the chairman of the Evaluation and Supervision Council, the play "Yerma" was rejected in the rereading and review session, Shohreh Soltani was banned from staging the play "Picnic on the Battlefield", and the plays "Session" and "Piano" did not receive performance permits by museum officials.
Eventually, due to the narrow-mindedness and pressure of non-cultural people and politicians, the theater house was taken from me after a year, and its activities stopped. My efforts to set up the theater hall in another place did not bear fruit, but the result of the movement continues in the Iranian theater.
For my efforts, in May 2013, the General Directorate of Performing Arts awarded me a statuette and a plaque of honor for the best private activist in the field of theater.
Last exhibition; semi-formal attire using Iranian motifs
The exhibition was held with great difficulty, but unfortunately because of Iran's economic problems due to international sanctions it was not profitable. Out of about 25 dresses designed and produced, only 5 were sold, and a large part of the money we had invested was lost, so the group did not hold any other exhibits, at least until the economic problems were resolved.
The closure of the Paryn Theater House also led to the group suspending its activities even to this day.
But since then I have tried to keep the name of the group alive in the social media. I have established databases on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. so that Paryn's name is mentioned from time to time.