At the end of February, dancer and choreographer Armin Hokmi will be showing his work Shiraz at Tanzfabrik Berlin, in which he and his team follow in the footsteps of the Shiraz Arts Festival, which took place in Iran from 1967 and was banned in 1977. For the tanzraumberlin magazine he has written a text about his artistic and research-based approach to the festival as a source of dance history and poses the question as to how the prevailing forms of representation in the live arts are tied to aspects of political power – then and now.
Text: Armin Hokmi
Dancer and Choreographer
In the piece Shiraz, the Shiraz Arts Festival (1967–1977) is taken as the point of departure and inspiration. The festival of live arts, which took place for 11 years, radically reconsidered the relationship between public and presentation of artists and art works with multiple genealogies. With steadfast love for the unfixed qualities and impulses of the encounters between them.
In the light of this festival, Shiraz proposes a dance performance full of traces, influences and markings, insistent energy and an ongoing emergence throughout the piece. The choreography in Shiraz is an orchestration between six dancers, which gives view to the dynamics of various imprints and the embodiment of different convergences of gestures, synchronicities and postures. The performance pays tribute to the historic event and places it within our contemporary moment. The Shiraz Arts Festival emerged from a larger set of aspirations during the late mid 20th century. Set out to find its own thinking lines against the ongoing Cold War at the time, as well as the political reality within its context in Iran. Against conventions and conservatisms of live arts and the relationship to the public, both locally and on a global scale. Together with projects that could be considered sister initiatives, FESTAC 77, Pan-African Festival of Algiers 1969, Festival Dakar 66 and Belgrade (BITEF), they made space for artistic encounters and influences with ef-forts towards democratization with respect to increasing representation across all continents and artistic genealogies. They aimed to bypass affirmation of raciality, ethno-centricity and regionality. The Shiraz Arts Festival came from a somewhat particular political trajectory. Its artistic and political remit was insistently driven by cultural particularism but not delineation of difference. Becoming a project of optimistic and open-ended inquiry, universal intercultural connectivity, permeating and circulating encounters of heterogeneous expressions. Its territory belonged to the confrontation of diversities, competing solidarities and proliferating visions.
Its goals materialized not only through the thoughts and the politics behind it, but also through the actual artists, productions and artworks that were presented alongside. As a project it was and remains contested by states, artists and religious authorities, which led to it being banned in 1977.
We look back at the Shiraz Arts Festival in the shadow of where we are today when it comes to representation, modes of public address and the role of dance and choreography and their urgency, autonomy and power. Particularly in equivalent settings and contexts that we identify and consider to be both inter- and transnational. Where we yet deal with hierarchies of internationalism and stumble into modes of representation that are marked by exoticism and fetishization. And the endlessly difficult task of embracing complexity in regard to the public framings of artists and art works. The tendencies to simplify and subdue artistic expressions to clichés regarding identity, bodies and nationality. And the expectations towards dance and choreography to cater to policies rather than artistic urgencies.
So considering the audience as capable of generating its own mode of orientation towards dance and choreography? Absolutely.
Acknowledging the irreducibility of artistic expression to confirmations of positions? Certainly.
Commitment to the potential of dance and choreography as autonomous practices and rejecting the need of dressing them up? Categorically.
Appreciative of the transformative power of fabulation, especially in regard to authenticity and cultural representation? Truly.
Suspending the myth that all art by people of color is or should be some form of cryptic articulation of fierce racial dynamics of their lives? Yes please.
Study of Shiraz Arts Festival and its archival remains took place in conversation with Vali Mahlouji – Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD)
Shiraz by Armin Hokmi
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