“Silence has its own voice for those who listen.”
Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, tweeted me those words in November of 2014 after I published Iran: When a Voice is Silenced. At the last moment, the person I had lined up for the post pulled out, deciding it was too risky to speak with me. I ran the post anyway, illustrating it with photos from the Facebook page, Iran – Beautiful Persian Land. Touched by Nafisi’s words, I was satisfied with the post as it stood.
Then, two weeks ago, I got an email from Aziz, an Iranian artist living in London. He’d read my blog post on the Iran-Beautiful Persian Land Facebook page. Since my first interviewee had backed out, was I still interested in learning about Iran, he asked.
Now I was faced with a conundrum. Do I revisit a country I already featured? Do I break one of my own rules by talking with someone living outside of their home country?
After talking with Aziz, I decided the answer to both questions was a resounding yes.
Aziz grew up during the Iran-Iraq War, the 20th century’s longest conventional war. “It greatly affected my life,” he said.
In Iran, Aziz was a teacher with a doctoral degree in family counseling. He taught at the university in Tehran, worked in an education agency, and cared for patients at a clinic.
Art, he said, helped relax his soul.
Before answering my questions, Aziz sent me a thoughtful, articulate recap of Iran’s struggles. He hoped it would help me better understand Iran’s fascinating and troubled history. It did, although there is still much that is confusing to me.
What I felt most from Aziz’s words was a sense of loss. As he put it, “My country changed very much after the Islamic Revolution. The people changed a lot. They have changed as if they are new people.”
Aziz knew very little English when he arrived in England. As a result, he could not find work in his chosen field. That is when he turned to art, to say visually what he could not with words. Today, his art provides for his family.
Because Aziz left Iran under “very hard conditions,” he was unable to provide me with any photos of his life in Iran. “I am unable to access them,” he said.
Instead of photos, Aziz’s art illustrates this post, with his permission.
What is your last visual memory of Iran? Green leaves of trees in my home yard.
What was your favorite time of year in Iran and why? Spring, because it is the rebirth of creations, celebration of color, life, and movement.
What is a favorite childhood memory of growing up in Iran? Picnic with all my family. Also to be out of Tehran, cycling freely.
Please describe what a typical Iranian dinner. A colorful dinner. Salad Shirazi, a typical Iranian style salad with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, onions, dried mint, and lemon juice. Sabzi khordan, vegetables with parsley, mint, tarragon, chives, and radishes. Doogh, a drink made with water mixed with yogurt, dried mint, and salt.
It is very difficult for me to answer this question because it is very complicated. The Iranian government doesn’t like people like me. . . people who disagree with the government’s rules.
What myths or stereotypes about your country/culture would you like to set straight? My country’s people are very kind and friendly. The hallmark culture of the hospitality of strangers. Peaceful people.
Also, in my country the four seasons are seen at the same time. It is winter in the north while it is summer in the south.
For more than two hundred years, my people have not attacked any other country.
What do you miss most about Iran? Sincerity and friendly people.
What brings you joy? For my family to be happy and for me to play around with paint.
What are your fears for the future? For Iran to be divided by civil war.
What gives you hope for the future? Belief.
How does your art help you deal with being separated from your country? I try to show social problems with the use of my culture base to acquaint people with my country.
What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago? Not all people in the world have a problem living together. Most of the problems are the politicizations. I think ordinary people live without thinking about these things.
USA and Iran were very good allies not long ago. I hope this relationship starts again.
I think Chicago is very busy and it is a beautiful city.
What are your thoughts about the proposed Iran Nuclear Deal? The best option is conversation. It is better than other ways to properly assess the two sides.
What does Iran do well? Grow fresh organic crops and saffron. Make carpets.
What do you wish Iran did better? Allowed free elections by the people, not forced by other members of the government to choose a specific person.
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