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Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jewry


Prof. Saba Soomekh with young professionals at Pre-Purim Bash at the Fowler Museum Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jewry continues to draw crowds to the Fowler Museum


The Beit Hatfutsot exhibition Light and Shadows, and the outstanding activities held in conjunction with the exhibit, continue to receive rave reviews as they attract a diverse audience to the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles. Activities during the month of January included “Monajat” a multi-media concert by the gifted Persian performer Galeet Dardashti, on January 26th. The concert kicked off a conference on the most ancient Jewish diaspora, that took place the next day.
Dardashti, who performed at the Beit Hatfutsot Gala in December 2011, inherited her musical talent from her grandfather, Yona Dardashti, a renowned Persian classical singer, and her father, Cantor Farid Dardashti. She wowed the crowd with her rendition of the spiritual poem Monajat, which re-imagines the repentant Jewish prayers of Selichot as well other traditional Persian songs adapted from famous Persian and Jewish poets. Nahid Pirnazar, professor of Near Eastern Languages and Culture, stressed that with Dardashti’s project Monajat, she protects Iranian Jewish culture by exemplifying the Persian Jewish relationship with music, and the attempt to preserve a long-standing tradition.
A day-long conference “From Ancient Persia to Contemporary LA: 2,700 Years of Iranian Jewish History” was organized in conjunction with the exhibit. The conference brought together distinguished scholars to examine topics including religions and cultures in ancient Persia, religious minorities under Shiite Islamic rule, and contemporary issues of identity and culture, including women in Iran and the Jewish-Persian diaspora.
Complementing Light and Shadows at the Fowler are two inaugural exhibitions entitled My Heart Is in the East, and I Am at the Ends of the West and Leaving the Land of the Rose. On view at the Shulamit Gallery in Venice, California these exhibits explore the contemporary Iranian Jewish story. Featured artists include Farid Kia, Ben Mayeri, Laura Merage, Soraya Sarah Nazarian Jessica Shokrian and Marjan K. Vayghan.
"My Heart Is in the East, and I Am at the Ends of the West" Installation Shot:
Works by Ben Mayeri, Laura Merage and Farid Kia
"My Heart Is in the East, and I Am at the Ends of the West" Installation Shot:
Sculptures by Soraya Sarah Nazarian
Last but not least a Pre-Purim Bash was held on February 9th for young professionals. Keeping with the traditions of the Purim celebration, those in attendance enjoyed a plethora of activities including a guided gallery tour of the exhibition with Prof. Saba Soomekh, scholar, author and project coordinator for Light and Shadows, an appearance by the artist Hailey Loman, drinks, desserts hamantaschen treats, dancing and live performances.
The exhibit received extensive media coverage during the month. Click on the links below to view a sampling:
Fowler OutSpoken Lecture:
Shalom Sabar: The Traditional Life Cycle of Iranian Jews in Art and Folklore
Shalom Sabar, professor of art and Jewish folklore at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, illuminates select objects featured in Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews and provides a fascinating view of Persian Jewish art. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013 1- 4 pm
Kids in the Courtyard: Purim Party!
Revel in Purim, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the story of courageous Queen Esther. Dress up like royalty, and eat hamantashen—a delicious jam-filled cookie. Rattle your handmade noisemaker while you listen to this exciting story about bravery, deceit, and the triumph of good.

Thursday, March 7, 2013 7:30 pm
Fowler OutSpoken Conversation: The Next Gen of Persian Jews in LA
Speakers: Sam Nazarian, Bahar Soomekh, Tabby Davoodi, Saba Soomekh
In conjunction with Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews, entrepreneur Sam Nazarian, actress Bahar Soomekh, Tabby Davoodi (30 Years After), and professor Saba Soomekh break taboos by discussing: najeeb (sexual purity) and the difference in expectations between men and women; homosexuality within the Iranian Jewish community; socio-economic disparity and the pressure to “fit in” financially; the baal teshuvah movement (those embracing Orthodox Judaism); career choices outside the societal norms; and other issues faced by young Persian Jews as they navigate between their Persian, American, and Jewish identities.
Light and Shadows was chosen by Forward as one of the five most important exhibitions of 2012.  The enigma of the survival and thriving of the Jewish People unfolds as one looks at artifacts from 600 BCE. Some of these are presented publicly in the US for the first time.  As Dr. Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper at the British Museum said: "The exhibit highlights the moral underpinning of the Jewish people."  It underscores the unity that emerges out of our diversity as a people.  At the same time, the story of the Jews of Iran is a universal story of a people that lived among other people and maintained its distinctive heritage even as it inspired and was inspired by the majority culture. 
The lead sponsor for the exhibition is the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation.

The exhibition partner at the Fowler Museum is the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Additional generous support comes from the Farhang Foundation and Sinai Temple.

The original presentation of the exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot was made possible by generous gifts from The David Berg Foundation, the Diamond Charity Foundation, the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York, the Maccabee Foundation and individual philanthropist, the Global Mashadi Jewish Federation, members of the Iranian Jewish community as well as other Jewish communities.