Call for Papers

Call for Papers

Culture and Cultural Production in Iran: Past and Present 

A conference funded by the Honeyman Foundation, School of Modern Languages and Institute of Iranian Studies

University of St Andrews

(17th, 18th and 19th June 2016)
Convener: Dr Saeed Talajooy <[email protected]>

Art, as we know it in our everyday acts of creating, displaying, interpreting and consuming, was born out of the transformation of the means and meanings of production during the last four centuries. Prior to this era, the majority of objects or actions produced through human craftsmanship or musical, physical and linguistic creativity — including painting, sculpture, buildings, pottery, literature, music, dance and drama among others —either functioned as sacred means of moral edification and spiritual communication in rituals or ritual spaces, or as beautiful or rare means of entertainment which were to provide delight for or display the wealth or power of aristocratic families and at times common people. With the gradual rise of the cultural category of art, however, new ways of seeing and new spaces were created which, while aspiring to turn art into a discipline during the late eighteenth century, gradually expanded it to break all the hierarchies of the past and include all aspects of life in its space. Art, thus, was no longer just a means of moral edification, existential representation, or entertainment, but a borderless discipline that increasingly reconciled the opposites and violated religious and social hierarchies to present alternative ways of being. To change cultural and socio-political assumptions and practices, it is essential to analyse their structures and the ways they are perceived, and then imagine them in new ways, a task that has often been conferred to artistic cultural products in which the new imagined worlds are presented. Art, therefore, has become more than ever a process of creation and reception in which new ways of being are introduced and promoted.

During the last two hundred years, the encounter of Iranian cultural activists with the new space of art, which was constantly being redefined, accelerated their desire to search for innovative depictions of life and prompted them to create similar spaces in Iran through a creative dialogue with the newly evolving global forms. Thus Iranian artistic products became the first sites in which cultural activists aspired to propagate the ideals of Iranian modernity by replacing the images of allegorical man with those of individuals dealing with everyday problems. These artistic and cultural products, while developing new forms of drama, fiction, poetry, cinema, music and visual arts, have participated in the process of contesting the traditional hierarchies of Iranian society and expanding the range and the depth of what can be seen and heard in the public, private and even individual spaces of the country. On their journey, however, they have always faced resistance through rejection from non-initiated public and repression from political and religious loci of power aiming to tame or annul their emancipatory power. This constant tension has at times led to innovative approaches to artistic reformulation. It has, however, also led to a situation in which even now many Iranian intellectuals and art practitioners have to come up with new terms — ‘committed art’, ‘Islamic art’, ‘spiritual art’, etc. — to justify the existence of art and their cultural positions as artists, as if art in the singular and with no modifier is to be ashamed off.

These forms of control are not specific to Iran. Thus while art endeavours to transcend the ideological limits of different societies and black-and-white master narratives, it is often caged to make it function within covert and overt ideologies. Most socio-political systems, therefore, seem to impose some form of direct or indirect surveillance on cultural production in processes which transcend overt ideologies such as nationalism, nativism, capitalism, communism, Islamism. In this context, obsession with control seems to have more to do with the centuries-old idea that the range of visual, verbal and musical images present in the public space have to be limited in order to create a healthy society. In actuality, however, the process restricts the range of what can be seen and heard in the public space — and the distribution of the mental skills required to see and hear them for what they are. It also serves to marginalize alternative perspectives and preserve the prerogatives of those who have the means to control.

This conference aspires to encourage the application of the evolving approaches to the study of culture to the history of artistic production in Iran. The unifying element of the conference, therefore, is artistic cultural production and the spaces in which it has occurred as an aesthetic, economic, socio-political phenomenon in Iran, particularly during the last two hundred years. We welcome a variety of submissions: from those that offer overviews of a particular form in a given period, to very specific studies of individual artists, works, practices, or material culture. We are also interested in the role these cultural products have played in the expansion of the concept of art and ‘the redistribution of the sensible’— what can be seen and heard in society due to the machination of political, cultural and religious aesthetics that confine these sounds and images in a hierarchical system of values. Of particular interest are also those papers that explore the theoretical aspects of the meaning and functions of art in Iran by studying specific topics. The conference, thus aims to encourage analytical and theoretical discussions on the multiplicity of locations that art (literature, cinema, theatre, music, dance, visual arts, architecture, etc.) occupies in Iranian discourse on modernity and post-industrial contemporaneity.

 The following is a tentative list of general themes that speakers may choose to address while researching specific topics, but other subjects or approaches will also be considered:

  • What is ‘Farhang’? Is there a divide between a popular and an elite culture? Who possesses culture?
  • What is art? Where does it occur? How has it been received and promoted in Iran since the 1800s?
  • Visual arts and the transformation and idealization of the body;
  • The museum as a space and as an art form; collecting and buying art products;
  • Cultural production and royal/clerical modernity in the late Qajar, Pahlavi and post-revolution era;
  • What is ‘the contemporary’ and when did it begin in its Iranian context? What is contemporary art (literature, music, drama, dance, visual arts, architecture, etc.)?
  • Mimicry, theatricality and theatrical politics: theatre, cinema, and their socio-political doubles;
  • Music, dance and the rise of public space; music, dance, and culture; women on the stage;
  • Transformation of the concept of art as a prerequisite for modernity;
  • The art of subversion through historicist, cross-cultural, and folkloric reformulation and adaptation;
  • Art as a public space for socio-political inquiry; and history writing as an art form;
  • The birth of the new concept of ‘the individual’ in Iranian art;
  • The rebirth of Tehran as a modern/Islamic modern/contemporary metropolis: immigrants, minorities, marginality, coups, foreign occupation, Islamic transformations and artistic production;
  • The expansion of the public space through architecture, theatre, cinema, opera, ballet, concerts, night club dance and performance, reformulated religious rituals, marketing and religious murals, etc.;
  • Marxism, art and modernity; Islamism, art and modernity; Existentialism, art and modernity; Capitalism, consumerism and art; Nation, nation-building and nationalism in Iranian art;
  • Comparative studies of Iranian and non-Iranian art (fiction, music, dance, poetry, drama, visual arts, architecture, etc.) with a focus on the meaning of the modern or the contemporary;
  • Publication, distribution , canonization and festivals and their roles in the reformulation of the culture;
  • Transformation of family, individual and society in cultural products,
  • Women as the subject and producers of Iranian art;
  • Modern history and art as a secular space to display cosmopolitanism;
  • Rereading history, religion or myth in Iranian art;
  • Revolution as performance; streets and homes, indoor and outdoor, social control and metamorphosis;
  • Indigenous artistic traditions and negotiating the relationship between the past and the present.

Please submit abstracts of between 250 and 300 words by 25th January 2016 (Extended until 31st January 2016). Authors will have 20 minutes to present their papers. A selection of papers will be chosen for further expansion and publication in an edited volume on Culture and Cultural Production in Iran. The abstracts must be electronically submitted to Saeed Talajooy <[email protected]>.


The conference has been funded by the Honeyman Foundation, School of Modern Languages (University of St Andrews), and Institute of Iranian Studies (University of St Andrews). 

The Honeyman foundation was established by the generosity of A.M. (Sandy) Honeyman, a former Professor in the University of St Andrews in 1985  with the aim of encouraging education and research in general and study of Middle Eastern languages and cultures, in particular.