Iran: An indie rock band can play once but not twice

21 May 2014


In-depth article by Sune Engel Rasmussen, a journalist based in Tehran, about censorship and the arts in Iran. Excerpts:

“For Iranians, negotiating the barriers of censorship is in itself an art form. Film directors, in particular, have long been masters of bending the rules, using metaphors and symbolism to subtly inject criticisms against the system into their work.”

“At times, censorship in the Islamic Republic can seem surprisingly arbitrary. In principle, most art is not illegal, but artists need permission, which is given on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, censorship is often left up to individual concert organizers, gallery curators, and theater houses.”

“In March, in an old villa in central Tehran, the singer Hasmik Karapetian dutifully donned her hejab and stepped in front of the camcorder. In private, many Iranian women don’t wear the mandatory headscarf, but Karapetian’s performance was to be taped and sent to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance for evaluation.
“They have to know everything about us,” Karapetian said, smiling, during a break in the rehearsal. If approved, she and the rehearsing orchestra will be allowed to perform Mozart’s “Magic Flute” at one of the city’s greatest concert halls, and Karapetian will be the second woman in the 35-year history of the Islamic Republic to sing opera solo in public. Last fall, her student, Shiva Soroush, was the first. “This is really big progress,” says Karapetian, who is in her mid-thirties. “I think that we can keep it with the new government, but how long, I can’t say.” ”

“As many Iranian artists know, everything is political under a paranoid regime. Even if you shun politics, your work will almost invariably be viewed as support for or opposition to the leadership.
A case in point is Pallett, a fusion band that blends Iranian folk music with jazz and Western pop influences, and who performed on national television in January. Since the 1979 revolution, showing instruments on television has been illegal, so the five-member band pantomimed instead.”

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