The cultural programme around the exhibition of 146 posters at this liberal arts university includes lectures and film screenings, seems geared towards the wider public as events are all free and open to everyone, not just the university. The show is furnished with exhibition notes by Iranian writer Dr. Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, who has published a book about the collection titled “In Search of Lost Causes: Fragmented Allegories of an Iranian Revolution. A video below in which he describes the posters’ links to other international causes is available.
The vast significance of these posters is defined by the way the legacy of the revolution took shape, it was pre-digital social media and thus harder to reach people and facts were more easily edited after the event, without a photograph, who could prove a poster had ever existed, once destroyed? In Search of Lost Causes spans from the pre-Revolutionary period, post-coup of the Shah in 1960s Iran to the height of the Revolution and then the ensuing decade, the ’80s. The show seeks to examine three interrelated aspects of Iranian 1960s and ‘70s revolutionary posters, which advertise anything from collective action to film screenings and display hand-drawn design as well as striking, anonymous black-and-white photographs.
The contents not only support Iranian causes but also Palestinian exile, women’s rights in the Middle East, worker’s rights and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.
Introducing American audiences to modern Iranian art, the exhibition sheds light on the many ways that visual culture both reflected and affected two decades that saw dramatic changes in Iran, such as the politicization of Islam, the de-secularisation of the government and the 1979 Revolution. “It’s proof that the Revolution wasn’t from just one ideology” said Dr. Dabashi to a local paper.
The selection of revolutionary posters by both professional and amateur artists merge calligraphy, graphics and rhetoric in order to convey abstract ideologies and thick text runs throughout many of them not just in Persian but also in Arabic, French and English. There are elements of the Persian epic in them, as most posters feature a an odd cast of heroes and villains that include pre- and post-revolution governmental officials, individuals, and groups of activists and labourers. For such socially geared posters, it is only natural that workers are a common feature. The production of the posters was not just in Tehran, many were made in and for the regions, and others in Eastern Europe, even India and London and surprisingly for American audiences, Salt Lake City. “Anywhere where there were Iranian students, they came together” added Dr. Dabashi.
The collection calls to mind the work by Taraneh Hemami Theory of Survival, a residency that collected reactions from a cross-generation of Iranian and Iranian-American artists who were engaging with an archive of posters, publications, and documents belonging to the Iranian Students Association of Northern California, a movement that was active from 1960-1982. Where Hemami was searching for the personal in reactions to the pamphlets and posters of the 60-80s movement, In Search of Lost Causes seeks the personal in the motivation of not just the producers and distributors of the posters, but of those who have saved them all this time for posterity. Hear our podcast of Hemami’s presentation of the work at March Meeting, UAE in 2011.
A testimony to the breadth of topic in the posters on display for In Search of Lost Causes, are notes that read like this one:
A revolutionary poster signed by Arab and Iranian student organizations in support and solidarity with the Palestinian national liberation movement. The poster is dated January 1977 on the occasion of the twelfth anniversary of armed struggle for the liberation of Palestine.
With the endowment of an N.C. Humanities Council grant, Dr. Dabashi went to Asheville to co-curate the exhibitions with Carlos Steward, one of the owners of the collection who works in The Courtyard Gallery in the Phil Mechanic Studios in Asheville. Dabashi went on to give a series of lectures and presentations on the collection’s historical and contemporary significance, which are particularly pertinent in that several of them openly criticise US involvement of the coup in Iran, of which their involvement is now public knowledge especially after the melodramatisation by the recent “hit-film” Argo.
Thirty posters hang in UNCA’s Ramsey Library, 10 line the walls of Firestorm Cafe and Books and the remaining 106 fill up two floors in the Phil Mechanic Studios’ Flood and Courtyard Gallery in the River Arts District. In Search of Lost Causes will be on view in the Blowers Gallery during regular library hours, with additional works, screenings and lectures at the Flood Gallery and Courtyard Gallery in Asheville’s River Arts District. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For more information, including library hours, visit bullpup.lib.unca.edu/library or call 828.251.6336.