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A Utopian Stage

Curated by Vali Mahlouji

The Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis was an arts and performance festival held in Iran every summer between 1967-77, in and around the city of Shiraz and the ancient ruins of Persepolis. Taking place during a time of radical shifts in global narratives and power dynamics – at the height of the Cold War, and in the wake of rapid decolonisation – the festival facilitated a unique and transformative crucible of artistic possibility: simultaneously apart from, and in response to, its time. The festival introduced artists and expressions from the Global South into international cultural discourse on an unprecedented scale, radically dismantling the dominant hierarchies. After Iran, the most highly represented region was South Asia, re-invigorating strong but dormant cultural ties with countries like India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan which has been severed through colonial rule. In the immediate aftermath of decolonisation, Shiraz-Persepolis would shift the cultural centre of gravity towards the re-emerging ‘other’ – consciously attempting to bypass the hierarchies and conventions of the European cultural terrain.

Domestically, the festival also opened up a transgressively liberal space within a politically restrictive Iran, after the CIA-organised coup d’état of 1953. In 1977, the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis was declared decadent by religious decree, and since the Iranian revolution of 1979, materials associated with the festival have been removed from public access: the materials in this exhibited during DAS 2018 remaining officially banned in Iran.

A Utopian Stage unearthed archival materials, audio recordings and film footage to articulate and appraise the implications of this decade-long episode in the 20th century’s artistic narrative. In doing so, this exhibition shed light on the aspirations and contradictions of a contentious historical moment, and addressed the notion of a collective, hyper-modernist, arena of experimentation that remains a high watermark of modernist ambition.

thrust open the heavens and start anew - Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Excavated Archives

Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD) has unearthed archival materials, audio recordings and film footage, which documents the revolutionary spirit of the Festival, and was displayed for the first time in Asia during the Dhaka Art Summit 2018. AOTFD considers the Festival’s landscape to be one of the most revolutionary multi-disciplinary artistic crucibles of any commissioning platform witnessed around the world - its cultural perspectives being one of the major unresolved artistic enigmas of late modernism. A Utopian Stage revealed a kaleidoscopic range of performances in music, drama and dance presented and commissioned by the Festival, with a focus on Asian and African contributions, alongside the significant presence of the international avant-garde. Through these materials, A Utopian Stage aimed to articulate and appraise the implications of this decade-long episode in the 20th century’s artistic narrative, addressing the notion of a universalist arena of modernist aspiration and experimentation.

below the levels where differences appear - Performance Programme

During the Dhaka Art Summit 2018, below the levels… drew upon the music, theatre, dance and politics that informed the utopian aspirations and contradictions of the original festival, with contributions by Hassan Khan, Goshka Macuga with Vali Mahlouji, Silas Riener (Merce Cunningham Trust), Reetu Sattar, Yasmin Jahan Nupur with Santal performers and Lalon Baul singers.

For full details of below the levels... programme and performers, click here. 

to be free is to lose sight of the shore - Film Programme

Throughout the Dhaka Art Summit 2018, Archaeology of the Final Decade curated an eclectic selection of films, which echoed and reflected the themes at the heart of A Utopian Stage, both aesthetically and politically, from the revolutionary to the existential. The programme conflated artist and feature films, video documentations of live performances and historical documentaries to realise an ambivalent, universal stage where impulses could flourish.

Invited artists and filmmakers included Reza Abdoh, Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, Ashish Avikunthak, Shezad Dawood, Rose English, Rose Finn-Kelcey, William Greaves, Isaac Julien, Mikhail Kalatozov, Lindsay Kemp, William Klein, Lala Rukh, Goshka Macuga, Simon Moretti, Sergei Parajanov, Gillo Pontecorvo, Ousmane Sembène, Shuji Terayama, and Stan VanDerBeek, among others.

beyond the bounds on the other side - A Timeline

In Zone 1 of A Utopian Stage, a fragmented history of the 20th century was conjured through the ambitions and contradictions of countless utopian universalist episodes and ideals: transcendental internationalisms, radical liberations, emancipating solidarities.

By the middle of the last century, the demise of the old European empires revealed a new horizon of opportunities and encounters for people and cultures across the world. This timeline served as an evocation of the constantly evolving dreams and possibilities that emerged and dissolved during the period.

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