In the past few years, the emergence of "The Free Iranian Artist" and Free Iranian art has become more and more popular as the discourse on Iran, the relation to Islam, freedom, and politics, has shifted out of first into second, possibly third gear.
If you are an Iranian artist, in my opinion, your first duty is to yourself, and second, to me (as one of your fans), to be FREE. Free to express your art in any way that you want. To do this, you must obviously, simply, survive. You cannot stifle. You cannot suffocate. You cannot go to jail. You cannot die. That will silence you forever, or worse, taint your art with the polluted scent and everlasting stain of oppression. Art borne from torture, is psychotherapy, not art. Certainly not an act of heroism. I do not require you to be a hero, or to even be ideal. But I do require you to be an idealist.
Anyone who celebrates the work of a tortured artist, is a culture-vulture of the worst kind, picking rotten meat, off dying bones.
Many Iranian artists, whether in music, film, or traditional art, have left Iran these past 30 years. Many even before that, under the debatably equally oppressive times of the Shah. But in my opinion, leaving Iran to express yourself artistically is not a cowardly act of abandonment that some inside Iran claim it to be. But it can be considered a brave expression of national duty. If you can leave Iran, you are merely very lucky to do so. Iranian artists inside Iran who cannot leave, are simply unlucky. It may not be fair, but that's just the way luck, and art, works. There's no Zerring about luck. Could have been, should have been, doesn't matter in the cold cruel cosmos.
In the music sphere, although bands like Kiosk or 127 or Hypernova may have started out, literally underground in Iran, the fact is, that today they have been redefined by their very migration to the States. Many complain that outside of Iran these bands are no longer the pure voice of oppressed Iranian youth, the image of the hardcore underground Tehran band. Today though, to me, KIOSK is a prime example of a new category of Iranian musical artist, the "free Iranian dissident band". This carries in many ways, far more responsibility and credibility than an artist stuck inside the basement of a luxury home in northern Tehran. The Iranian artist who chooses to stay inside Iran, is admirable, but ultimately and largely untrustworthy. For obvious reasons.
Some artists like Mohsen Namjoo seem to be able to coast precariously through the deep and stormy waters of censorship and objection, momentarily floating on the crest, but always with the fear of instant submersion. This is a fluid situation, and I doubt, in the end, he will be able to hold his tongue and continue his vague references and critique of the system, too much longer. Especially with his recent works becoming bolder and harsher, he appears poised, and seems to be building up to a turrets-syndrome of explosive opposition. But who knows, he might sell out and go back to Iran, sign an apology for the government, and bite his tongue all the way back to Mashad and Torbateh Jam.
The risk is naturally predictable. That inside Iran, the artist will simply wear down, and give in, and become like a Benyamin or an Arian Band, tools of an oppressive system, who sell off their art for the mere price of their principles, cheapened now for convenience and simple, understandable survival. Or, more likely, that they will self-censor. When surrounded, the self preservation motive, allows the Stockholm Syndrome to occur all to easily and very naturally. Almost sweet in it's intoxicating taste.
I'll now add and argue that Iranian art that is not free, is not true Iranian art.
If Iran is not "free", it is therefore the duty of the (true) Iranian artist to save Iranian art. It is not the job of the Iranian artist to change Iran, however. I do not expect you to talk about an idealized Iran in your lyrics, show valiantly comedic dirt poor village children from Mazandaran in your films, or paint sweeping pictures of Zagros landscapes with minarets in the sunset. It's great, and I can even say, as an occasionally unwilling culture-vulture, I love it, but I do not actually require it, to love the Iranian artist.
What I require instead, is that you merely grow and move forward as an Iranian artist. The ongoing development and refinement of your Iranian-ness, free from oppression, creating free art, is what interests me. That's what I will argue, moves our culture forward. Stifled oppressively obsessively compulsed art does nothing for our collective growth, except honor the prison guard within each of us, still within each of us, today.
The sad state of the boorish beshkan besotted 6/8 from LA, is the worst example of the Iranian artist trapped in his own skin. As the ultimate sellout. Too afraid to make something new that Caltex might not like. As a result, everyone re-manufactures the same garbage, is still broke, and worse, now fighting each other for scraps off the "Aroosi Market", or the Xmas Las Vegas shows (with complimentary Free Buffet!). Literally barking like the dogs they've become.
I'll also argue that in fact, Iranian art has never been free. Not under the Shah, nor this government, nor trapped by the Masters of the Los Angeles Dubai time portal. So I am patiently curious to see what happens to Iranian art, whenever an Iranian artist emerges who is actually, truly free.
So, to all you artists who moved out of Iran, you did not sell out by being free, and making your music, films, and art freely. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let anyone tell you what Iranian art is. You are at the helm of our future. You have in fact, put yourself in the correct, intelligent, dissident, and logical position of freely stating your message. From the safety and freedom that this side of the fence offers. So stop feeling guilty for leaving home, and get on with it!
And to tose of you who gleefully listen to Benyamin, or blast Arian Band CD's in their cousin's Paykan, as they shuttle between luxurious vacations with the kids to Tehran or it's newfound colony Dubai, to stuff their fattened-in-America faces with 90cm chelo-kabab, for the summer months;
The fence may appear to be very pretty today, and even painted in bright colors for your Iroonieh-Moghimeh-Amrika amusement, but it is still a very real fence. Now go straighten up that roosari on your 12 year old daughter. Her aspiration is showing.
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