Interview with Exiled Iranian Empress Pahlavi 'We Wanted to Create Progress in Iran'
The collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art was to be shown in Berlin in December, but Iranian officials declined permission to send the artworks out of the country. SPIEGEL spoke with former Empress Farah Pahlavi, who assembled the collection in the 1970s. She's been living in exile for 38 years.
The photos of the opening ceremonies for the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art from 1977 depict a country that no longer exists. They show men dancing bawdily in tight pants and dark glasses while female performance artists are dressed only in red wool yarn. The hedonism of the 1970s is on full display in the images, demonstrating that Tehran, too, was experiencing the rise of a younger generation.
These images, which are now on display in the Box Freiraum exhibition space in the Berlin neighborhood of Friedrichshain, were taken by the Iranian photographer Jila Dejam. Originally, the photos were to accompany a planned December exhibition in the Gemäldegalerie art museum in Berlin of works from the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition had been conceived as a symbol of cultural rapprochement between the West and Iran following the so-called nuclear deal.
The empress of Iran at the time, Farah Pahlavi, had initiated the collection in the 1970s, partly in pursuit of the dream of establishing Iran as a cosmopolitan, modern country, even as its regime was cruelly unjust. The 1979 revolution ended the dream, but amazingly, the artworks themselves survived. They lie essentially inaccessible in the museum's basement.
During a visit to Tehran in 2015, then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier received permission for an exhibition in Berlin of 60 Iranian and international works of art from this collection, including a painting by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack's "Mural on Indian Red Ground." Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said of the potential exhibition that he hoped it wouldn't just promote dialogue with Iran, but also strengthen "liberal forces, civil society." Ultimately, however, official permission to send the artworks to Berlin was withheld.
Farah Pahlavi, who is now 78 years old, has been living in exile since 1979. She receives guests in her Paris apartment, surrounded by modern art and pictures of her family. - Read More, Der Spiegel