Iran, Oil & Britain
Emily Johns, British artist and publisher, is touring an exhibition of images partly inspired by her recent peace delegation to Iran, in May 2006.
” … images dealing with the complex relationship between Iran, oil, and Britain. The work weaves together the larger international dynamics, the mutual cultural influence, and more intimate personal connections of Iranian-British relations. The pictures are accompanied by a text from Milan Rai“, co-founder of Justice not vengeance.
26 May 1908
On this date oil was struck at Masjid-i-Sulaiman, The Mosque of Solomon, in western Iran, by the fore-runner to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later to become ‘British Petroleum’ or BP. This was the first oil well to be established in Iran. Oil is bursting from the well at the Mosque of Solomon, piercing the flying carpet of King Solomon, puncturing the fabric of Iranian society.
Bam Earthquake – Underground Poetry
43,000 people were killed in the earthquake that destroyed the ancient city of Bam on Boxing Day 2003. Some of the survivors, including Shahrbanou Mazandarani, a woman of 97 rescued alive after eight days in ruins, had sustained themselves underground by reciting poetry from memory.
Souls in Cabinets
An artifact in a museum case contains the soul of a society, of a people. It holds the human imprint of the person who made it, who can survive over thousands of years in that pot or in that fragment of writing. In Iraq, over the past few decades of war and sanctions, hundreds of thousands of people have died and an enormous number of antiquities have been destroyed. We mourn the people who have been lost, and we mourn the ancient history that has been lost. We mourn the souls embedded in those artifacts that have been destroyed, and their awe-inspiring creativity, now snuffed out. This museum cabinet is a mixture of Persian artifacts from the British Museum and the Tehran National Museum.
Major Gerald Talbot and the Tobacco Fatwa
In 1890, the Qajar Shah of Iran, Nasir al-Din Shah granted a tobacco concession to a British company headed by Major Gerald Talbot. In exchange for a large loan to the Shah, the firm was granted a monopoly on producing, selling, and exporting tobacco crop in exchange for a loan. Tobacco was popular in Iran, and the tobacco industry employed large numbers of people. The concession provoked a mass movement of protest, and led Grand Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi to issue his famous fatwa against using tobacco. Tobacco merchants ceased trading, and the two-month boycott was observed universally – even by the Shah’s harem. The Shah was forced to rescind the concession. Major Talbot and the forces he represented were squeezed back into the bottle that the Shah had opened.
The Rose and The Nightingale
The image of the rose and the nightingale, the lover and the beloved, is a theme of Persian poetry and art. In Sufi Islam, it is a mystical image representing the search for the divine. The oil of Iran is the desired, the sought-after, poisoning the seekers.
Samples of the Oil Spirit
Rivers, woods and seas have their own spirits. Oil has its own spirit, that has been pent up underground, leaking sometimes through the surface of the earth. As with the genies of The One Thousand and One Nights, the spirit of oil can be liberated and controlled by the human will, but its restless force threatens to break free of human intentions with devastating consequences. The danger runs alongside the melancholy waste of this mighty spirit, producing throwaway products and burning oil with reckless abandon. Oil companies store samples of crude oil from different wells in collecting tubes, for analysis.
Chemical Weapons in Paradise
The word ‘paradise’ comes from the Old Persian word pairidaeza meaning ‘a walled-in compound’ or garden. The classic ‘paradise garden’ contains a rectangular pool of water, with strictly-aligned rows of trees and flowerbeds, and a grid of canals. Thousands of such gardens exist today in Iran, full of pomegranate trees, birdsong and butterflies. This picture was inspired by a meeting with survivors of chemical weapons attacks during the Iran-Iraq War, who had had their eyes destroyed by mustard gas. Some of them must have been gardeners, who now can no longer gaze on paradise. One survivor I met now organizes solidarity events with Hiroshima survivors, who plunged into the river to cool their burns on 6 August 1945. In this picture, the gardener stands in a canal to cool his chemical burns.
You can hire/borrow this exhibition from JNV. It comes either as a framed exhibition … large paper posters …or as small laminated posters …