If nothing else comes from the past weeks’ headlines out of Tehran, let us hope that Americans, generally, will become aware that Iran is far more complex politically, historically and culturally than the average American has been led to believe. Current American perceptions seem so often hopelessly colored by a steady diet of Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic rants, half-remembered impressions of the American embassy hostage ordeal, and the occasional story of atrocities committed by the country’s despicable religious vigilantes.
We Americans, unfortunately, don’t have a particularly rosy history when it comes to international affairs in the post World-War world. Our sad history of military intervention in Southeast Asia, and our recent adventurism in Iraq shared a key characteristic: a willful blindness before-the-fact to the local historical and political context. It is almost as if, as a nation, we want continually to mimic the worst stereotype of the American tourist (or more kindly, revisit the high-minded naivete of Alden Pyle, the eponymous Quiet American of the classic Graham Greene novel) who even on the familiar ground of Western Europe, can still wonder why no one speaks “American.”
Those of us who live in the New York area, have the opportunity to correct some of our ignorance of contemporary Iran by visiting the compelling ‘Iran Inside Out,’ an exhibition of the “Influences of Homeland and Diaspora on the Artistic Language of 56 Contemporary Iranian Artists” at the Chelsea Art Museum between now and September 5.
Nothing you could do in a single afternoon will give you a better understanding of the true motives of Iran’s “green revolution” reformers, or prepare you to understand the context of the particular political and cultural crossroads at which Iran stands today, and the potential resolutions that may play themselves out there in the days, months and years ahead.
For those of us without convenient access to New York City, an online version is here: Iran Inside Out. Please take this opportunity to appreciate and ponder on the work of these brave voices.