People of the Underground

“People of the Underground” (2015-2016) is a series of conversations with underground artists, art critics, and advocates of freedom of expression. These conversations address the definition(s) of underground arts and culture in closed and open societies, contextual realities and challenges that may contribute to an artist’s decision to work underground. They also address the role that underground arts and culture may have in the emergence of more nuanced civic dynamics. This podcast series aims to explore alternative sub-cultures among Iranian youth as a response to limiting laws and punitive measures against free speech in Iran. It further aims to depict the role of Iranian artists, and their audiences, in challenging socio-political and legal obstacles, as well as certain cultural, traditional and religious norms that remain strong, and sometimes limiting, in modern Iran.

Episode 9: Underground Arts and Cinematography

In the ninth episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Farbod Khoshtinat, a young and renowned Iranian artist, speaks about the notion of underground arts in cinematography. Farbod mentions the many difficulties that young artists face in today’s Iran, given both government-driven obstacles, as well as stigmas and ideologies that run deep in the society. He believes that competition among artists, underground or otherwise, is a lot more rigorous in today’s Iran than a few years ago when he still resided in the country. Farbod states that while this competition adds to all other pressures that a young artist has to face in a difficult environment, it also tests the persistence of those few artists who truly aim to grow in their form of arts. Yet, he fears, that many talented artists also never get a chance to truly test their talent against competition and to rise to the top. Farbod also comments on his experiences of having worked simultaneously as a licensed artist and an underground artist in Iran. He recalls the freedom that he felt in assuming the real audience, the viewer, of his work as himself when he engaged in underground production, rather than engaging with the more official arts stages and environments such as domestic festivals. Nevertheless, he believes all these experiences were key in making him the kind of artist he is today. In conclusion, Farbod speaks about the importance of collaboration with other artists, and the role that such collaborative efforts have played in deepening his understanding of arts beyond his own imagination. He continuously seeks the collaboration of other artists, and in doing so he takes into consideration the talent and techniques of young and emerging artists in today’s Iran.

Episode 8: Underground Theatre in Contemporary Iran

In the eighth episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, a theatre director speaks about underground and private theatre in today’s Iran. According to him the kind of underground theatre that evolved in recent years due to the harsh restrictions that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency brought about, resembles the private performances that women had in their homes during the Qajar era. He emphasizes that given the strict limitations that would prevent theatre artists from staging their work publicly and legally, many of his colleagues left the country or quit their art altogether. Others tried to continue their work in private and underground spaces without necessarily wanting to make a point to the government. He is of the belief that most underground theatre artists simply want to continue their work even if in a minimalistic and undesirable manner, and express themselves to their audiences without intermediary elements. He further highlights the recent phenomenon of private theatre in Iran, that is essentially the result of governmentally-led privatization of underground theatre. He calls this phenomenon a way for the government to redirect underground theatre to its own benefits and needs. Nevertheless, he mentions that in the constant pursuit of ways to connect with the audience, underground theatre artists use these privatized venues that are highly undesirable for staging a show, and are often located in remote areas. He concludes by reminding us that art, and theatre in particular, is meaningless without its audience, and asks policymakers in Iran to respect and allow for direct and uncensored interactions between artists and their audiences.

Episode 7: Underground Cinema in Contemporary Iran

In the seventh episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, a film director in Iran speaks about underground cinema in free societies, as well as closer environments such as Iran. According to him, in free societies underground cinema serves as the “third eye” of the society, while also challenging mainstream cinema. In surveilled and censored environments such as Iran underground cinema inevitably challenges the government, and is presumptuously labeled as opposition. He also highlights the role of technology and cyber spaces as a phenomenon that has empowered underground cinema against state censorship. In his opinion, ever since the Green Movement of 2009, in particular, underground cinema has become a necessity in Iran. He also emphasizes on the importance of form beyond only content in underground arts, and in particular underground cinema. He concludes by warning against the recent officials’ tactical attempts to contain underground arts by giving it a management structure to alter the content and form and to minimize its authenticity, and therefore undermining its purpose and power, without necessarily eliminating it altogether.

Episode 6: Underground Music in Contemporary Iran (Part III)

In the sixth episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Bijan Moosavi, artist and musician, speaks about the dimensions of underground arts globally, and in Iran. More specifically, he discusses rock tradition and examines whether it can be by default considered an underground genre that challenges the status quo in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In doing so he provides a comparative outlook with the emergence of rock music and other genres that countered societal norms in the United States in mid and late 20th Century. Bijan further unfolds this discussion by providing an analysis of the evolution of various genres, traditional music included, ever since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He also addresses the parallel production that the Islamic Republic has undertaken in the previous decade to compete with various forms of underground arts that it cannot fully eliminate by censorship alone. He names “governmental pop” as one of the most self-explanatory examples of this strange hybrid form of music sponsored by the Islamic Republic. Bijan also speaks about Cafe performances in Iran as a way for glimpses of underground music to occasionally surface above the ground for limited audiences. He calls Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency a truly dark era for arts in Iran. Yet, he speculates that Hassan Rouhani’s presidency has brought about a wave of a privately-led endeavors to attract artists and to employ their art for commercial use, challenging the ethics, authenticity and the future of underground arts and artists in the years to come.

Episode 5: Underground Art and Marginalized Voices

In the fifth episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Rashin Fahandej, artist and filmmaker, speaks about the challenge of being an artist in an environment when you are altogether censored due to your religious identity. As a Baha’i growing up in Iran, Rashin explains how being “underground” was an inevitable […]

Episode 4: Underground Urban and Street in Contemporary Iran

In the fourth episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, GhalamDAR, a young Iranian urban and street artist, speaks about graffiti and urban arts in today’s Iran. GhalmDAR speaks about graffiti arts in Iran, as a political movement that emerged during the Islamic Revolution of 1979 as a way to resist state agenda . He further explains that in his generation, graffiti evolved to become more western, which in his opinion is not necessarily positive as artists do not use local, cultural, Iranian and Eastern symbols in this form of art. GhalamDAR also explains that in today’s Iran “resistance” graffiti is more symbolic, and less stereotypical, than one may think. However, given Iran’s security environment, graffiti cannot grow due to the physical repression that it faces. Further, censorship aside, the Islamic Republic is working hard to divert street arts away from its natural course, and to make it a form of art that the state can better use for its ideological aims.

Episode 3: Underground Music in Contemporary Iran (Part II)

In the third episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Farzad Golpayegani, an Iranian musician and visual artist, speaks about the experience of obtaining state permission/licences for music albums (without lyrics). After a brief overview of the history of underground music in Iran, he speaks about his experience as an artist who unintentionally emerged as an underground musician primarily due to state limitations. He speaks about his varied and contradictory experiences in receiving state licenses for his albums.

Episode 2: Underground Music in Contemporary Iran (Part I)

In the second episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Parham Haghighi, a musician, speaks about the nuances and realities of music in Iran. In this podcast, he depicts a realistic image of the music world in today’s Iran, and examines the quality and evolution of various genres of music, addressing both the impacts of the ongoing state-sponsored censorship, as well as the opportunities that have emerged thanks to Internet.

Episode 1: Underground Literature in Contemporary Iran

In the first episode of Siamak Pourzand Foundation’s People of the Underground podcast series, Shahryar Mandanipour, a well-known Iranian author, speaks about underground literature. After a brief overview of the history of underground literature from the past to contemporary Iran, he answers our questions about various factors that have played a role in the decision of some Iranian writers to go underground, and to use unconventional means to publish their works. He also talks about his own experiences with the notion of underground literature in Iran, as well as the ways in which socio-political circumstances and efforts to limit freedom of expression have influenced his works before and after Islamic Revolution.


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  • © Siamak Pourzand Foundation, 2014