Expanding cultural relations with Iran

The role of cultural diplomacy and social policy between Tehran and its global neighbours


At a time when economic and nuclear policy earmarks much of the West’s foreign relations with Iran, where has the role of international cultural exchange and social policy gone?


In the 1990s, an American NGO worker, Susan Koscis, organised a visit of American wrestlers to Iran as part of a cultural outreach initiative. This initiative was called “Search for Common Ground” in its attempt to bring the two countries together. It was the first official visit by America to the country since the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 where 52 diplomats and citizens from the US were held for 444 days.


The second U.S visit came in November 1999, when Koscis accompanied another American woman, Nancy Matthews, to Tehran in search of Iranian artists to bring back to America for an exhibition at the invitation of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The hope was to use this cultural exchange to ease tensions and lay the groundwork for future diplomatic and political relations between the U.S and Iran.


Matthews invited 54 artists in total back to America, where the exhibition would end up opening a week after the World Trade Centre fell on September 11, 2001. The exhibition opened as scheduled, and played across nine U.S. cities between 2001 and 2003, receiving praise and positive reviews across the nation. It was the first show of modern Iranian art in the United States of America.


Regionally, Iran is taking increasing steps to expand its cultural relations and policies with foreign art markets. The cultural policies tying Iran to its northern neighbour, Armenia, reflect one such effort. Acknowledging the significant Armenian diaspora in Iran, the head of Tehran Municipality Cultural and Art Organization, Mahmoud Salahi, has recently met Armenia’s minister of culture, Hasmik Poghosyan, to proclaim Iran’s interest in expanding cultural links. In their meeting, Mr. Poghosyan announced that “Both the countries have almost boosted ties in all cultural and artistic fields and we tend to expand it to artists as well.”


Globally, Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Hossein Nushabadi, has now announced that Iran will warmly receive foreign investors interested in Iran’s film industry. This was in response to 20th Century Fox’s significant announcement of their wish to do business in the Iranian film market.


The country’s cultural ties with Europe also look to be being bolstered. This year, from December 13th, Iran’s Dramatic Arts Centre will host the first Polish Theater Week at Tehran’s City Theater. The event will feature, among others, the celebrated work of theatre photographer, Magda Hueckel (photograph pictured above). Other works presented will be those of major Polish directors including Krzysztof Warlikowski and Krystian Lupa.


With an increasing emphasis on economic and nuclear policy in the region from much of the rest of the world, it is important to remember the successes of the past and embrace the promises of the future bred through cultural diplomacy and social policy with, and within, Iran.



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