Johannes Ebert am 11. März 2017
Konferenz „Iran und die Kunst der Moderne“

Grußwort von Johannes Ebert bei der Eröffnung der Konferenz „Iran und die Kunst der Moderne” in Berlin

Mr Schauerte,


ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the Goethe-Institut, I would also like to welcome you to the Conference “Iran and Modern Art”.

Today’s event is part of a cultural programme with which the Goethe-Institut and our partners have been exploring contemporary Iranian art, music, theatre, film, literature and philosophy in 25 events since December of last year. A multi-month cultural programme on modern Iranian art in Berlin – this also a first for us at the Goethe-Institut. As you know, most of our work is done abroad. We at the Goethe-Institut have had ties in Iran for many, many years and have been active there for more than five decades.

From 1958 until 1987, the Goethe-Institut had its own institute in Tehran. Then, in 1995, the German Embassy opened the Deutsche Sprachinstitut Tehran (DSIT). A Goethe-Institut expert runs it. The demand for language courses is immense: today the DSIT operates at two locations in the Iranian capital city. In the field of cultural exchange, the Goethe-Institut is active today with one colleague under the roof of the German Embassy in Tehran. After years of sanctions and international isolation, we are now experiencing a cautious political and cultural opening of the country. As the experiences of recent months have shown, this opening remains guarded and is constantly being tested. Nonetheless, increasing freedoms for cultural dialogue with Iran are arising. Among the cultural highlights of recent years, where the Goethe-Institut was co-organizer, are, for example, the exhibitions on Käthe Kollwitz, Günther Uecker and Otto Piene, the guest performance of Hamelt by the Schaubühne directed by Thomas Ostermeier at the Fajr Festival and reading tours by Nora Bossong, Jan Wagner and Martin Mosebach. Also there was Helena Waldmann’s Letters from Tentland, the first production by a western choreographer ever produced in Tehran and then performed at its international Fadjr Theatre Festival. Premiering in January 2005 with six performers from the city of 15 million people, the piece then toured throughout Europe. Covered by tents, women told of their complicated, sad and comical lives between outer invisibility and inner liberty. In 2005, director and actor Roberto Ciulli and his Theater an der Ruhr came to the Fadjr Festival in Tehran and performed Georg Büchner’s Dantons Tod and Shakespeare’s King Lear. We also remember this as a special highlight in the cultural dialogue.

It is these activities that we hope to tie into with our Iranian Modernity programme. We want to offer opportunities to expand existing contacts and networks and also to give a platform to those cultural professionals who are little known here in Germany. While we call today’s conference “Iran and Modern Art,” we will also discuss the notion of modernity itself in this framework. At the Neue Nationalgalerie, it first brings to mind an epoch of art history that we associate with names like Vincent van Gogh, Vasily Kandinsky, August Macke or Marcel Duchamp. Perhaps we also mean the notion of modernity in philosophy: Immanuel Kant’s “principle of reason” or our changed perception of time as written about by Walter Benjamin.

As Germans and Europeans, we tend to generalise far too readily or, to quote Jürgen Habermas, after coming back from a visit to Iran: “When we travel from west to east with our little intellectual baggage, we enter the usual asymmetry of relationships of comprehension that ascribe us the role of the barbarians: They know more about us than we do about them.”

Not only in our own country, but in other countries as well we then differentiate between social forces that we, in our sense of the meaning, consider “modern” or “anti-modern,” “regressive” or “progressive.” Differentiations of this kind prove to be unsupportive not just for the cultural discourse in Germany. Today’s Iranian culture can also not be narrowed to a contest between liberal and traditional forces. Here in Germany, artistic positions from Iran that evade this pattern are not very visible. If there is one thing that we can learn from Iranian art, music, literature and philosophy, it is to “read between the lines,” to heighten our awareness for things that are meant and felt, but are difficult to express in the syntax of our language. To gain understanding for things that are thought or sensed, but are difficult to grasp. These subtleties and nuances are very important. We should not, however, conceal the fact that one reason they are so important is that there are still red lines in public communication, which, when crossed, may threaten artist livelihoods.

Allow me to take two literary examples from our programme that took place last month. In February, the Iranian writer Fariba Vafi and the German author Judith Hermann met for a reading as part of our Iranian Modernity programme. Thanks to translations, the two writers are familiar with each other’s work. We were impressed to hear from Fariba Vafi that some of Ms Hermann’s books have reached their ninth printings in Iran – including books with upsetting, emotional themes that met with criticism and a lack of understanding in Germany. Also in February, the author Belgheis Soleimani read from her novel I Fear Guranis. The book is about how a family deals with a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and the return home of an adult daughter from the big city of Tehran to a village that has become foreign to her.

We are convinced that this kind of dialogue offers mutual reference points and creates an understanding for one another. An understanding that characterises the language of art and literature.

With this in mind, I hope that we all have a beneficial conference offering many new insights. I would like to thank our partners from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Neue Nationalgalerie for the good collaborative efforts. I would also like to thank the German Foreign Office for supporting our programme. And very warm thanks to Feresteh Daftari, Mohsen Vaziri Moghaddam, Sussan Babaie, Gisela Fock, Kamran and Negar Diba, David Galloway, Vali Mahlouji as well as Gabriel Montua and Dorothée Brill who will share their experiences and knowledge with us here today. Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues Nikolai Blaumer and Florian Bigge.

Thank you very much.

Es gilt das gesprochene Wort!