Performing art in Tehran

In a Tehran art gallery, performance artists covertly bring attention to the authoritarian regime.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

A stone’s throw from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, three young people sit in an austere room, examining folders that turn out to hold their personal case files. Behind a desk in the corner of the room, an expressionless man slowly takes notes and leafs through the cases.

Though this may seem like a nightmarish realization of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” – a copy of which is symbolically placed on the examiner’s table – this scene takes place in an art gallery. As part of a popular exhibition visited by up to 1,000 spectators daily, it aims to introduce performance art here.

Curator Amir Rad invited 30 local artists to conceptualize experimental performances of their own choosing. Some strove to rouse spectators to the authoritarian realities of their everyday lives. Others criticized tangible problems, such as air pollution. Still others targeted various social clichés.

“I wanted to ... find new ways of expression,” says Mr. Rad. Doing so may introduce a new avenue for independent artists who are constantly searching to circumvent the restrictions of the Islamic Republic’s notoriously rigid cultural environment.

“The relationship between artists and the government is like Tom and Jerry,” says cocurator Mohammad Rezaeerad. “Tom is always chasing Jerry, but Jerry always finds a way to outsmart him.”

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