With a narrowly focused view of the Middle East, bombarded by headlines of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the perilous war in Iraq, it is easy to construe the Iranian Literary Arts Festival, debuting in The Citytoday, as a symbolic outlet of political uproar.
The festival’s crown jewel, onstage Thursday through Saturday at Theater Artaud, is a multimedia performance piece of spoken word, dance and video called “ICARUS/RISE,” which bridges the legend of the mythological figure to the migration of Iranians searching for freedom. It is, in the words of its creator Niloufar Talebi, about “the strangeness after the fall.”
But the weeklong festival, Talebi says, is much less about the climate of conflict and more about the everyday Iranian and his or her culture. One film screening in the festival called “Ahmad Mahmoud, A Noble Novelist” is about a novelist who worked as a day laborer and suffered imprisonment for his political views. “Aref Squared,” on the other hand, is about a cab driver in Tehran who dreams to sing with his idol on stage.
“All people see on TV are images of dust-eating refugees and it’s a skewed image,” Talebi said. “There are so many Iranian artists doing tremendous things and we wanted to present a balanced image. There is something for everyone and something universal in the pieces we show.”
To Talebi, that universal something begs the question: Why is there such a dearth of Iranian literature in the U.S.?
“When you talk about Iranian literature, all you read about is Rumi [the 13th century Persian poet],” said Talebi. “Our literature is invisible in a way.”
Presented by The Translation Project — a nonprofit literary organization and think tank based in The City — the first annual festival aims for a multitude of goals: attract an audience to the various media of Iranian art, open the eyes of the publishing industry and seed a path for philanthropic Iranian Americans to follow.
“How many Iranian books are being translated?” Talebi asked. “Zero. One of our goals is to shed light on contemporary Iranian literature.”
A vibrant woman who articulates equally with a wave of her hand, wrist and arm, Talebi was born in London to Iranian parents. The nonprofit founder serves not only as the artistic director, but as its accountant, marketer and paper copier. She said she has worked tirelessly to get the festival off the ground. </p>
“This is one of the biggest events of my young life,” Talebi said.
Along with film screenings and “IRARUS/RISE,” the festival also includes panel discussions such as Iranian writer Moniru Ravanipur’s “Why Iranian Literature is not World Literature (yet),” which asks why Iranian literature isn’t recognized outside its niche. Talebi said her organization formed a committee some years ago, offered publishers three contemporary Iranian works to translate at no cost and still came up empty.
“It’s a sad story, right?” Talebi asked. “But maybe it’s just the timing. I mean how does Orhan Pamuk [the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist] gain fame but none of our Iranian writers haven’t?”
IF YOU GO
The Iranian Literary Arts Festival
When: Today through Saturday; “ICARUS/RISE” at 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Theater Artaud, 450 Florida St., San Francisco
Tickets: $35 to $185 for “ICARUS/RISE”
Contact: (415) 626-4370; (415) 392-4400; www.thetranslationproject.org