Paola Riccitelli

My diary of the trip to Iran (for the photo exhibition)

I am returning to Iran for the third time, to participate with the photographic exhibition "Peoples and lands of wool”To a very important event held in Tehran from 4 to 11 March 2018, in House of Artists, the largest art gallery in the capital, and perhaps the country.
This time the purpose is different from our previous trips, in a certain sense it could almost be considered not a trip, because the stay will be limited to the capital. At first, a sort of bulimic impulse takes us to look for nearby destinations that we can reach, but soon we realize that the distances are enormous on paper, let alone in reality, and we resign ourselves to a short stay.
We arrive in the middle of the night Komehini airport, and like other times, entry into the country takes place by plane, when you realize that the women present are hurrying to cover their heads. We queue for the usual visa control operations and we find ourselves in the babel of the outside, waiting for the means to reach the hotel. Maria Assunta and I seem to grasp something new, compared to the previous landings: among taxi drivers, drivers of all means of transport, escorts waiting for groups of tourists, reunited families, children, attendants, veiled and covered women, many, many stand out bouquets of flowers, the new welcome fashion that we seem not to have seen before.
Tehran it is a huge city, some say 20 million inhabitants, and it seems to me that they have all decided to go out, take the car and go around the streets of the capital for no apparent purpose! The traffic is deadly, swirling day and night, but present at all hours. I immediately begin to get the idea that staying in the city will be a discovery different from the others but no less surprising. And the first thing that surprised me on my third trip to Iran is the heat… coming from an Italy in the grip of freezing cold, we brought Siberian equipment, and we are in an early spring. It will be there Nowruz close ... The hotel room marks 28 degrees, despite the more than mild climate the heating is at maximum!

On Sundays we are busy with the preparation of the photographic exhibition. There Artists' house, not far from the hotel, in the south of the city, the most populous and chaotic, hosts an important event, which collects photographic and graphic works from all over Iran. We are received with honors that surprise us and even more we are surprised by the interest that in this country, often accused in the West of backwardness and closure, is addressed to art and culture in general. We had already had this impression in the course of the previous trip, in particular to Shiraz, visiting the monument of poet Hafez, an incredible place not only and not so much from the architectural-artistic point of view, but because it captures the lively and widespread interest of people, especially young people, towards poetry, which here is a real means of communication and socializing.
We find Sima, our guide on the previous tour, now a friend, and we know Neda, the organizer of the event, a small, volcanic woman with a thousand responsibilities and tasks, and with the inexhaustible energy, which has always found a way and time to take care of us. It is she who prepares our agenda, "she who organizes meetings and interviews ... nice meeting with the president of the Institute of Development of Contemporary Arts from which Neda depends, who receives us with great care, offering us you and sweets and above all his time and his interest. With him, thanks to the irreplaceable translations of Sima, we speak of culture, of the increasingly strong presence of Iran in the international cultural scene, of the Milan Expo ... and thanks to him and Neda we can participate in a concert by music contemporary of an orchestra of young, talented musicians.
But these concerns are only a part of a special welcome, which Iran has always reserved for us.
Right away we find the true, deep and widespread hospitality of the Iranian people, a genuine desire to communicate, interest in the foreigner. To me these seem the most obvious characteristics, which unite the many souls and ethnic groups that make up this endless country. Wherever you go, wherever you take our disorientation of strangers, whether in front of the subway board, or at the intersection of streets with unknown names, we always find someone who does not just give us directions, but accompanies us, stops to talk , to exchange a chat in a lingua franca often made of few words in broken English (ours) and many gestures and smiles. This is Iran that surprised me the first time, among the pastors of the north, and that I have always found, in the outskirts and in its large cities.
the inauguration of the photo exhibition is a success, so many people, authorities and ordinary people, and many meetings. For me, in particular, the one with Carmel, a friend of Italian friends, who despite not knowing me, took the trouble to come to the show. We recognize ourselves in the crowd, we do not speak one word in another's language, we understand each other the same ...
The rest of our stay in Tehran reveals a place that we have underestimated so far, in our anxiety to discover this immense country. The capital is a chaotic, gigantic megalopolis, full of people in constant motion. Once again we visit his biggest bazaar, where a very kind boy, who we met on the subway, named our guardian, leads us patiently, after having "inherited" us from another traveler who came down to the previous stop. We invite him to the show and he comes bringing a huge bouquet of flowers! Sima builds possible itineraries in the short time we have: the bridge of Nature, from which Tehran seems a megalopolis of the future, against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, small city views, the place with the best kebab of Tehran ...
In the little time available, between an engagement for the exhibition and an interview that Neda tirelessly procures us !!!, we visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, where it seduces us and involves a beautiful exhibition on Akbar Sadeghi, an artist who has experienced every form of visual art, with deep roots in the Persian past and very strong contaminations with the art of the Western world, an unexpected discovery.
And we find Sharareh, a friend of past travels, ended up in our show with a beautiful shot by Mauro. With her and her husband we visit another small bazaar and a mosque, where we stop sitting on the floor, me, she and Maria Assunta, talking about big and small things, of God, of soul and human brotherhood, as if we knew each other from always.
We spend the last morning visiting the great Tehran cemetery. We want to go and see the part that houses the burials of the war heroes. Since the first trip, I was struck by the presence along the streets of images, tabernacles, portraits, of men and women who fell in the war against Iraq. In the cemetery of Tehran hundreds of thousands of glass cases hold photos, memories, objects that testify to life, but above all the emotional ties of the dead with their families. It's a strong impact, the theme is. And it is a theme that we Westerners, today in the "lucky" part of the world, consider with the detachment of those who look at what happens elsewhere, but could never happen at home.
A final reminder of this journey, addressed to the talented actress-artist who with a group of children animated the exhibition using Mauro's images to stage tales of mythology and ancient Persian history drawn from the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi.

Paola Riccitelli

diary of the trip to Iran for the photo exhibition

To share