Although the title of a panel at the Modern Language Association indicated it would be a forum for dissident Iranian artists, the panelists made few claims that the dictatorship there might dispute.
Several panelists debated interpretations of contemporary Iranian art and film in a session entitled, “Media, Justice, and Revolution in Contemporary Middle East.” Only 15 people in attendance, including a moderator and three panelists. The panel featured Babak Elahi, an associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Pouneh Saeedi, a Trent University professor and Amy Motalgh of the American University of Cairo.
Elahi analyzed an Iranian art website called “Tehran Avenue,” which has since been shut down by the Iranian government. He felt that “Iran’s aesthetic sphere is caught between” Islamic power on one hand and economics on the other, which is reflected in contemporary (or modern-day) Iranian art. Elahi described Iranian artists today with words such as “courage” and yet, mentioned the Green Revolution as a “floundering” protest movement without mentioning the Iranian government’s brutal suppression of opposition activists and protesters. He went on to say, “…with the election of Hasan Rouhani, and the [potential] thawing of relations between Iran and the United States” that hope is on the horizon for both Iran and the U.S. as well as their diplomatic relations.
Saeedi noted how “blogs continue to be a force to be reckoned with in Iranian cyberspace” and how it has changed the political environment in Iran. Although Facebook is exclusively banned in Iran, she saw that “despite the ban on social media,” Iran’s Ayatollah joined social media platforms to counter the West’s and “Zionists’…soft war” on Iranian culture via social media. Unlike Elahi, Saeedi noted how bloggers have been subject to imprisonment and how one blogger has stayed away from politics and writes only on cultural issues.
Motlagh focused on the concept of justice and mercy that can be found in Iranian films. She found that “mercy contravenes human results” and that in the majority of Iranian films like The Separation, the “mercy in Iran’s judicial system” has been exposed to the international public. But, Motlagh admitted that Iranian cinema reiterates both the sovereignty and power of the Iranian regime.