We are fortunate to have access to a lot of different speakers and guests at Brandeis. Some of them surprise us with their candor and honestly, and this was especially the case yesterday when the Iranian theater director, filmmaker, and poet Mahmood Karimi-Hakak visited campus for the day. Mr. Karimi-Hakak was a guest of the Peacebuilding and the Arts Program at Brandeis, and his stay included a class visit, poetry reading, and film screening.
I attended the class, PAX250: The Arts of Building Peace, with a few other staff and faculty guests. The class was intended to be a seminar discussion of the documentary “The Dream Interrupted,” about Mr. Karimi-Hakak’s shocking experiences trying to stage Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in Iran. In 1999, after five years of planning and intense rehearsals, the play was shut down by Iranian censorship authorities who remain mysterious to this day. It is a truly disturbing story, and I highly recommend viewing the film if you can get a hold of it (it’s available in the Brandeis Library Reserve until the end of February, and then in ASAC 327 after).
But the class itself went in surprising directions. Instead of recapping the experience of staging and trying to save the play, Karimi-Hakak gave the class a mini history lesson in Iranian politics and Iranian-American relations. This history was refreshingly devoid of cliches or platitudes, told from the distinct perspective of a proud, liberal-thinking Iranian and artist. Karimi-Hakak explained how this history of mistrust and backroom deals ultimately led to the culture of lies that contributed to the shutting down of his play. A play by Shakespeare, no less, and not one that was meant to be subversive or re-interpreted!
While I want to keep an open mind about Karimi-Hakak’s own interpretation of the history and issues, I found this talk to be an example of a perfect class: one that shows the connections between current events, history, and personal journey. Karimi-Hakak drew connections to his struggles, and the struggles of his colleagues and countrymen and women, to the current uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. He also had some interesting things to say about modern technology and the connection between technology and social change — he called our epoch the “age of acceptance,” one where common people are trying to manage the tensions between personal communication and online media, between privacy and public display, and between communal protest and self-survival.