Hidden Basement


“Hidden Basement” (2015-2016) is a blog space dedicated to understanding underground arts and culture in the context of the socio-political, legal and cultural intricacies of today’s Iran. This blog primarily features written and audio pieces on a range of topics related to underground arts and culture, and the quest for freedom of expression in contemporary Iran. Some of the featured pieces capture the nuanced role of contemporary arts in the emergence of societal grounds to challenge ideologically driven and state-sponsored notions that propagate paranoia against independent arts and culture as the catalysts of political upheavals among youth.

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“The Story of an Art Gallery in Iran” by A.L (The name had to be censored!)

As the manager of an art gallery in Iran, I consider confronting and going around censorship as an inseparable part of my job. I have sometimes successfully overcome censorship, and other times I have had to accept defeat. There have been times that I have managed to find a very simple way around censorship, and have pleasantly surprised my colleagues and friends in doing so. I once exhibited work that even had minimal nudity in the less visible rooms of the gallery. Several other times I covered the “sensitive” parts of photographs or paintings with scotch tape in order to to showcase them. These are all unfortunate and idiotic ways to continue the work, and not to fully surrender to censorship. Relying on these ridiculous techniques makes you wonder the extent to which you have accepted to self-censor in order to play a role in fostering art and culture against all odds, and in an environment ruled by laws that lack simply rational justification and logic.
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“The Song of Aqua Fortis and the Story of Silk“ by Omid Fallahazad

Sooner or later the concept of music censorship and its practices will turn into cartoons that will need explicit captions or comments. Just as the children of today do not understand the correlation between a pen and a cassette tape, the image of an underground music band that has received the flogging verdict from the judiciary for promoting corruption and violence on Earth will seem mysterious and bizarre. The unfortunate reality is that to surpass this lengthy and painful era of censorship and repression in Iran, many of our valuable artists and musicians have had to pay/are still paying a high and irreversible price. Let us value every ounce of freedom, and not give away any of it at all.
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“An Alternative Reality“ by Bahar Behbahani

I knew censorship since childhood, and had accepted it as a reality. It was “an alternative reality” that would allow my mind to imagine and to make up stories, mysterious stories that were sometimes sweet and appealing and other times horrifying. I didn’t know they were hiding it so that I don’t see it at all, or that it was like game where they would hide it, and I had to find it all.
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“Another Face of Censorship” by Salome MC

As an underground musician who simply refrained from allowing the state apparatus to enjoy control over my art, I did not feel particularly burdened by censorship in Iran. Of course, I did not enjoy the right to certain privileges that artists may have in other less restrictive societies, such as organizing live concerts. Nevertheless, those of us born in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Iran who experienced the Iran-Iraq war, and grew up in the aftermath of that war, learned not to have too many expectations in general. What bothers me more than the Iranian state censorship is what I think is a form of neo-orientalist framing of the Middle East in international media. In light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, international media became keenly interested in capturing certain local prototypes in the Middle East to solely highlight the region’s repressive fabric, and the stories of those who would heroically challenge this repression. I benefited from the media’s hunger for such stories in the region, and was given the appealing title of “the first female rapper of Iran”. However, I soon realized that my media value closely correlates with my gender and nationality. Much to my dismay, I quickly realized that I am far less appealing to international media as an artist who is simply a person and a global citizen. To be honest, this type of framing, or censorship perhaps, agitates me more than the state-sponsored censorship in today’s Iran.
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“You can Call me an Underground Filmmaker” by Z

What has emerged as underground arts in Iran is impossible to control or stop at this point. No matter how hard the authorities of the Islamic Republic try to eliminate underground arts, they will not succeed. While restricting authentic underground artists, they seem to have accepted their inability to completely control this phenomenon. In fact, the Islamic Republic hijacks aspects of underground art to portray a more modern image of its sponsored, and often ideologically-driven, arts scene. For instance, the Islamic Republic has now renamed hip-hop to something called “speech singing”, allowing its approved artists to compose songs in rap style. These songs, that of course lack original hip-hop style lyrics of objection and criticism, are widely broadcasted on state TV and radio. Other instances of this trend include various movies approved by the Islamic Republic capturing their characters engaged in graffiti arts as part of the plot. Islamic fashion shows are another example of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to borrow elements from the country’s underground arts scene, and make them Islamically and ideologically sound for its own purposes.
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“University Students Must Think the Way We Want Them to Think!” by Davood Mousavi

After almost 14 years a sentence that Mr. Karami, the head of the moral office of our university, told me remains fresh in my memories. When I was a university student in Iran, I used to organize photography workshops for my classmates. We would set out in the streets, and experiment with creative photography. We would also, once in a while, organize a small exhibition at the university or elsewhere. One of these times, we decided to capture various images of the city during a famous Shia mourning ceremony (Ashura). Upon putting together the exhibition, Mr. Karmi called me into his office, and asked me a strange question. He asked, “What were you trying to convey with that one photo where there is a No Entrance sign next to a street called Heaven?” Even though caught off-guard, I tried to calmly explain to him that this photo should be viewed in the context of the rest of the photos of the exhibition. Nevertheless, my explanations were futile. Ultimately, he chuckled at me, stared into my eyes and said condescendingly, “University students must think the way we want to think, and not the way they want to think. We are here to ensure that they think our way.”
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“Art Dances Under the Skin of the City” by Maryam Dehkordi

I have a friend who is one of thousands of graduates of filmmaking in Iran. It is now years that s/he hosts an annual film festival at home, inviting his friends and colleagues. This year s/he hosted this festival for the sixth time in a row. S/he essentially has a small professionally-designed cinema at home, where s/he shows movies of choice from all over the world. This small home festival is done away from the intrusive practices of the Islamic Republic authorities. S/he and festival participants do not have to be worried that by simply watching and discussing movies they are threatening the “morality” of their society! They watch movies, share their critique with one another, and spend the rest of the evening together, socializing and discussing relevant topics. They are lucky that they are not yet caught while committing a crime: watching movies without license in a co-ed environment! In fact, relevant authorities of the Islamic Republic have lately called the production and screening of unlicensed films at home a form of cold war against the government!
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“Underground Blogging in Early 2000s in Iran ” by Amir Yahya Ayatollahi

A significant challenge of anonymous and underground blogging in Iran was that it intensified our already dual life by further dividing it into two parts; one life outside the blogosphere (in the real world), and the other as a form of cyber existence within the blog space. Freedom of speech in the cyber space led to reinforcing the dual personality of Iranians in our semi-traditional society with its notable traits of behavioral anarchy and contradictions. This freedom of speech in the cyber world did not come to us for free. Many of us bloggers lived in the state of constant fear, dreading our hidden character surfacing to expose our “other” real life identity. We feared societal and political consequences in a restricting environment under the rule of the Islamic Republic, and in a context where traditional values still often preceded acts free and controversial self-expression. In such an environment, I anonymously wrote a popular blog called “Creature” in which I expressed my doubts about religion and politics.
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“Self-Censorship: Iranian Blogger’s Struggle” by Shahab Mim

When a fellow blogger was arrested in Iran’s Mazandaran, a strange sense of fear began to grow in me. The detained blogger, like me, had covered controversial topics such as women’s right. It was during this time that bloggers like me suddenly felt that they are being surveilled in the cyber space for addressing topics and opinions that were often censored in mainstream press and media. It was an unpleasant feeling.
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  • © Siamak Pourzand Foundation, 2014