An Iranian Call For Art And Peace

January 16th, 2007 by Menachem Wecker

If only those who hold Iran to be a place of hate, tyranny, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism could see an exhibit that is one of the most promising models for peace. Nothing like this happens in the Jewish or Christian world, and for that Iran deserves our applause and thanks.

The winners of the World Award of Monotheistic Religions exhibition have been announced, and Iconia has an inquiry out to the powers that be in search of a catalog and some answers.

In the mean time, here’s what you need to know about the awards, which “were designed on the assumption of the basic unity of religious faiths in the worship of God and the rejection of the demon of pride and oppression as well as the ideal of bringing about a moral and just society inspired by the teachings of prophets”:

The 1st Prize ($15,000) winner, Elham Mahootchi’s (Iran) piece shows a black background speckled with yellow dots that seem to orbit a yellow circle in the center. The poster creates a solar system of sorts, which at first seems orderly, but upon further consideration is quite a tense space with circles and lines competing to dominate the system.

Second Prize ($10k) winner, Shervin Faridnejad (Iran) constructed a poster which combines a Christian-looking angel with a Buddhist one. Mid-flight, the Chinese angel offers a gift to the Christian, and both figures are set on a pure white background with Arabic script.

Special Prize ($1k) winner Olexandr Mikula (Ukrain) opted for a simple and elegant commentary on racial acceptance in a piece (pictured above) that shows clasped black and white hands, forming a heart in the middle and the words ‘God is Love.’

But it is 3rd Prize ($5k) winner Michal Jandura (Poland) who steals the show. His piece (pictured) depicts three interlocking books, set to a background that repeats “THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD” over and over, one marked with a cross, one with a star of David and one with a crescent. The piece suggests not only are all three religions comprised of people of the book, but indeed our narratives are all intertwined. Only together can our stories unfold. This piece alone would make the whole show worthwhile.

The Tehran contest is arguably one of the most promising signs of a potential model for peace, with its emphasis on creating, feeling and interpreting — all terms in a universal vocabulary upon which Jew, Christian and Muslim alike can agree.

In his introduction to the ceremonies, the competition secretary Mohammad Mahdi Asgarpour spoke of the dangers of modernity for religious experience:

Contemporary world is characterized by a vast difference with the past and this has resulted from the fantastic expansion of science and technology, and the resultant demystification has led to a replacement of simple reverence for the past with critical dialectics.

Despite these dangers, Asgarpour maintained “the teachings of the prophets have retained their originality and pertinence,” but sadly, things were often lost in translation.

No doubt the words of prophets received different interpretations during the various periods of history. At times, wise interpretations brought about union and concord among religions, while at other times short-sighted interpretations, motivated by personal interests, bred discord. This is of course a negation of the unified source of all religions.

The question now is what duty faces man who is in need of the spirituality offered by the prophets?

This speech takes a lot of guts (see the entire thing here), especially part of the conclusion:

Emphasizing the points of divergence among monotheistic religions will not lead to the elevation of man. The correct path is to seek common features among religions, and to join our forces for a better understanding of the world. And the language of art provides the best means for the creation of such an atmosphere.

The World Award of Monotheistic Religions has been created on the basis of such ideas.

If I’d been there, I’d have been clapping my hands off, and I simply have nothing to add to that speech. Ebrahim Haghighi (who was also on the selection committee), also gave a great talk about the responsibility of the government and the municipality in cultivating an artistic community.

My only criticism is that although it can do wonders for the three major monotheistic faiths so desperately in need of common ground, restricting the religious experience to only the monotheistic religions alienates other faiths and art traditions. Hopefully this competition will prove part of a larger movement. For now, it is a mere baby step.

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