February 6, 2009 / 1:46 PM / in 11 years

Social change in Tehran focus of London premiere

LONDON (Reuters) - Chador-draped policewomen abseiling off a building, marching with bayonets or pointing machine guns out of a car, are all photos from a new book by young Iranians about social change in Iran.

“Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations,” is accompanied by the premiere in London of three documentary films, including Ala Mohseni’s “My City, Pizza,” which investigates Tehranis fascination with the Italian dish.

The objective of the book “is to document the social transformation of Iran,” Malu Halasa, one of the editors told Reuters in London.

“It’s a view from the ground up,” Halasa told Reuters. “(It’s) a portrait of a country in transition, one which is largely misunderstood by the outside world.”

In the 1980s Iran’s birth rate skyrocketed and as a result, a large proportion of the country’s youthful population does not remember the revolution of 1979, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini established a government under Islamic law.

“Like 75 percent of Iranians, many of the contributors to Transit Tehran are under thirty-five,” Halasa wrote in the book’s introduction. “They represent a generation with strong emotional and social attachments to their culture and religion while being critical of the Iranian government’s censorship.”

The book, published in Britain, consists of essays and photos, such as those by Newsha Tavakolian of a transsexual woman who began life as a male truck driver and became a woman at the age of 45.

Rapper Mehrak Golestani wrote about Tehran’s underground music scene, explaining the popularity of Persian-language rap and how songs are disseminated via the internet to avoid the government seal of approval.

Golestani, who raps under the name Reveal, explained some in Iran oppose Western influences of any sort, regarding them as an affront to Persian culture and a challenge to the government

“My City, Pizza” — about Tehran’s 4,000 odd pizzerias - echoes this view. Director Mohseni shows how the authorities see pizza not as food but as an affront to traditional values.

The photos of the policewomen are by Abbas Kowsari. In 2003 Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf ordered the creation of the first female police corps, and Kowsari photographed them in action. The two other films describe the lives of taxi drivers in Tehran, where high unemployment has forced many to earn their living by ferrying passengers through dangerous traffic.


Though the book touches on topics ranging from sex to music to sport, one of the most frequent is religion.

Essayist Roya Karimi wrote about her visit to a women’s clerical school in a working-class neighbourhood. One student is there because she was bored being a housewife. Another studies because she wants to put down her overbearing brothers with Koranic arguments.

“Many of the young women who come to study here tend to be a bit radical because they aren’t well-versed in Islamic jurisprudence,” Karimi quotes the seminary’s director as saying. “But... as their learning grows, they become more moderate.”

Photographer Omid Salehi, meanwhile, documented the daily life of a cleric. Salehi snapped Haj Amjad while sleeping, getting a massage, and watching his daughter playing chess.

“I always thought clerics lived lives that were different from those of other people,” photographer Salehi told Reuters in an email.

Salehi said he hoped his pictures would show the diversity of Islam. He says many devout Iranian Muslims have religious views very different from those propagated by the government.

Javad Montazeri photographed children and women wearing chadors - the black robes some Iranian women wear in public - at a beach he visited as a child.

“For me, it’s important to understand what’s happening in my country,” he explained in the book.

“They altered surface appearances, but people’s minds were unaffected,” Montazeri said of the Islamic revolution. “Society can be altered. It can destroy itself or rise again.”

“Transit Tehran” was published by the Prince Claus Fund and Garnet Publishing. The films are scheduled for show in London and Manchester this week.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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