Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thin Men, Strong Women--Looking at Music: Side 2

by Julie Jigsawnovich

In early 80's New York, kids who stole spray paint and covered the sides of subway cars with their names would have serious art collectors, art students would reach the stature of rock stars, and a white women from Jersey would make a groundbreaking, best selling rap record...

Read the rest of my art review here:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An American Perspective: Iran and the Iranian Election

by Julie Ashcraft A.K.A. Jigsawnovich

NEW YORK–Going to Iran, seeing the presidential campaign, and transitioning from being a tourist into being a supporter of the rights of Iranian voters was an evolution in knowledge and feelings.

I was upset when the Taliban blew up the giant Buddhas in Afghanistan--I’m not religious, but I’m an artist and I care about history. Then, the US military invaded Iraq, and their national museum was looted. I thought, “What could happen next? Israel has been threatening to bomb Iran for a while. Which places and things of artistic and historical importance could be at risk?”

Photos of extremely beautiful Iranian mosques and palaces beckoned on Flickr. “Cyrus created the first human rights document,” announced a caption to a photo of his tomb on Flickr. I stumbled upon Hichkas’ “Bunch of Soldiers” music video on Youtube–and feared triggering a Dept. of Homeland Security file, so scary and nationalistic it was on first viewing. But after finding a version with English subtitles, I realized that Hichkas’ lyrics showed insight and compassion, and he was advocating strength in defense–not adventurism. The music drew me in with a compelling combination of rap and traditional Iranian instruments. The shots of Azadi Tower were stunning. Tehran seemed so exciting–I had to see it in person!

Fear crept back onto me when further internet searches uncovered videos of Iranian women being arrested for revealing too much hair, prison guards whipping inmates, and executions by stoning. I realized there were internal and external dangers, but I still wanted to visit Iran.

After warily reading the Iranian Constitution and penal code, I persuaded my best friend to vacation in the Islamic Republic with me. I mentioned the upcoming Presidential election, and suggested that the run-up to it could be an exciting time to visit. And it was! In Iran, we were thrilled to see supporters joyfully and openly handing out presidential campaign literature. We took photos of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Ahmadinejad election banners in Tehran, Shiraz, and Esfehan. Mousavi supporters repeatedly showed tremendous enthusiasm–and we even heard kind words for our own president, Barack Hussein Obama. His Norooz greeting had been well-received.

Although I was keenly aware of Sharia law, and felt an underlaying angst in Iran–at the same time I met such kind and charming people there and saw so much beauty, that I experienced unexpected culture shock upon returning home to New York City. I missed being around Iranians, and wondered where I could find some. I found them on the internet, and they showed me a side of Iran I hadn’t seen as a tourist, or even as a YouTube viewer. On June 13th, the day after the presidential election, someone told me that Sepah had staged a coup d’etat in Iran. Having no idea what Sepah was, I struggled to comprehend the complicated system of Iranian politics, militias, religion, and civil rights. Within a week of the election, I attended a rally at Manhattan’s Union Square in support of voters in Iran.

I brought a Mousavi poster with me. An Iranian journalism student asked to photograph me posing with the poster–from the front, with my full face showing. I declined with the sinking feeling that such a photograph could cause real problems for me if I ever returned to Iran.

President Obama hasn’t specified a significant difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad regarding the nuclear issue. I felt certain there were considerable differences on other issues, however. Mousavi had set a precedent by campaigning with his wife, and he received strong support from women seeking more freedom. Hardliner Ahmadinejad cracked down on women during his first Presidential term, and he was closely aligned with the Basij.

Astonishing graphic documentation of injuries, wounds, and murder flooded the internet. Horrifying and upsetting, the videos were also morally compelling and intimately human. People tried to rescue and treat the fallen, they cried, they screamed, putting their bloody hands in the air--seeking witnesses to the violence.

Next came thousands of arrests, documented prison torture and rape, and script-like “confessions” at Revolutionary Court show trials. In the midst of this I attended Iranian rallies, hunger strikes, teach-ins, panel discussions, and art exhibitions. Before the election, people in the Islamic Republic of Iran were full of energy, life, and hope. Many Iranians there, here in New York, and all over the world, still are. So, I resist reconciling memories of my wonderful vacation in Iran with the raw severity of the crackdown going on there now! I believe that cruelty carries the seeds of its own destruction. And I tremendously admire the brave Iranians who, undaunted, and in their own ways, support democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights.

(c) 2009 Julie Ashcraft
All rights reserved

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Playa Philosopher: Fred Khoshtinat

by Julie Jigsawnovich

FRED Khoshtinat is renowned for Hichkas, Xaniar and Taham videos he directed and edited. Now FRED's first official track, "If You Want Me" (Age Mano Mikhay), has debuted at He also wrote the lyrics, arranged and produced the song.

Measuredly impatient, words roll off his tongue in Parsi, "Don't act like a good girl for me. You know that we don't have much time till the end of the if you want me, please hurry because my cognac is losing its effect on me, girl....I don't feel like dancing tonight. We're gonna dance enough in my room." Khoshtinat walks the tightrope of frankness with devastating Persian aplomb!

This song is crunchy, subtly nettling--but pleasure overrides pain with net results that exposure to this song is physically thermodynamic. You will want to get with someone. And you'll want it now!

One of the sound layers in the mix imparts a classic video game feeling, triggering my memories of visiting an arcade in Times Square when people were getting shot there on a regular basis. Deceptively simple in content, this song has the confidence and casual appeal of psychological game marksmanship. And something about one of the repeating percussive sounds recalls expertly, gently applied whips.

I asked FRED what effect he would like this song to have on women. He said, "I want them to feel weak in the vastness of their need to a male, and they will feel like a slave to a great power of gravity that is coming from the man--and the fact that sometimes they will do anything to conquer it." Deeply impressed by his cosmic sensual metaphors, I was none the less confused by the last phrase. "The man conquering the woman or the woman conquering the man?" I asked.

"Woman conquering man," he replied.

"Bale? To Conquer implies gaining mastery over someone. It's tricky because, I think, you are going beyond a simple slave/master symbol. You are transcending. What is 'it' that the woman will do anything to conquer?" I asked.

"Gravity that is coming from the man--the attention," he replied.

I asked him to repeat his metaphors in Persian. Khoshtinat said, "mikham ehsas zaaf kone joloye shahvat niaze shadidesh be yek marde khass, ehsas kone ke bardeyi shode nesbat be in niaz va ghodrati ke az tarafe mard sater mishe va dokhtar ro mikeshoone va jazb mikone, yaade oon mavagheyi biofte ke vaseye fathe in tavajjoh va raaf kardane in niaz hazere har kari bokone hatta khodesho payin bire va koochik kone, humiliate herself."

Although I have no illusions regarding the many power dynamics of sexual attraction, I found his desire for the woman to humiliate herself troubling--partly because I believe there is more to Khoshtinat than this statement allows. A clue, perhaps, is the photo accompanying "If You Want Me" (Age Mano Mikhay.) FRED's head rests in the lap of a woman with strong-looking legs. He lies on his back, peering out at the viewer, smiling.

originally published at:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tehran Bureau "Soheil Tavakoli: Painting Green"

My first article for PBS FRONTLINE Tehran Bureau. Am I excited? Of course!

sloppy spin mistress

The evolution of truth has had its quirks. Even though I honestly like the current trend towards clearly biased, opinionated reporting with no facade of objectivity, and enjoy reading conflicting opinions during my daily effort to sift out facts and find some sort of truth, I still tremendously admire the AP writers and researchers. Here is a sparkling example of AP writing:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Karoubi's Bodyguard Seriously Injured During Protest

"(4 November 2009) Security forces and militia used brutal force to disperse thousands of protesters on the streets of Tehran and other cities today, resulting in a number of injuries and arrests, in violation of international standards regarding the proportionate use of force against peaceful demonstrations, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. The protests occurred parallel to officially sanctioned demonstrations on the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the United States Embassy in 1979.

"Protests also took place in other cities, including Shiraz, Rasht, and Tabriz. Many protesters were reportedly arrested in Tabriz after security forces attacked demonstrators using pepper spray and tear gas.

"Eyewitnesses have told the Campaign that, despite an intense intimidation program aimed at stifling the demonstrations by SMS threats promising prosecutions for taking part, and the closure of metro stops to discourage gatherings, thousands of protesters appeared at Hafte-e-Tir Square, Kargar Shomali, and other locations, and were met by vast numbers of riot police backed up by quasi-official militiamen. The presence of huge numbers of security and anti-riot forces and brutal attacks were common in all reports by eyewitnesses.

"Numerous demonstrators were arrested, including Ali Mashmouli, Vahideh Movahed and other prominent persons. According to a report by his son, security forces shot tear gas canisters directly at opposition politician Mehdi Karoubi, seriously injuring his bodyguard who was taken to a hospital. According to reports received by the Campaign, live ammunition was used in shots fired over the heads of demonstrators.

"The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran expressed its deep concern about the continuing and excessive use of violence against peaceful demonstrators, and called for the immediate release of detainees."
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