Artist: Elaheh Massumi
Confronting Bodies: Curator Michket Krifa, the supervising committee of the exhibition, which includes members of the Paris municipality, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Date of Action: June 2001
Specific Location: Paris
Description of Artwork: A video installation on the subject of Jewish-Muslim relations in Iran, with particular reference to the trial in the previous year of thirteen Jews convicted of spying for Israel. The film is to be projected on facing five-meter-high walls, a brown "Jewish wall," and a bluish "Muslim wall". The piece combines words from the Koran, the Iranian constitution, and Cyprus the Great with computer images and descriptions of Iran's persecution of the Jews. A closing sequence includes the names, ages, jobs, and official charges against the Iran 13. This information is followed by, "Trial circumstance: closed door trial, no jury, judge also acting prosecutor."
Description of Incident: The Iranian Muslim artist, who is known for her human-rights related work, was asked by curator Michket Krifa to do a piece on Iranian photography and video for a Paris exhibition. Upon the arrival of the piece, the response was positive. Later Massumi was informed that the film was to be viewed on four television monitors instead of on two walls due to space limitations. When Massumi protested, arguing that this display undermines the integrity of her work, the curator said she would present the film again to the supervising committee of the exhibit. After two days the artist became aware that there were deeper issues beyond spaces limitations. The curator expressed concern for the safety of the Iranian photographers who will attend the exhibit for when they return to Iran. She also conveyed that French cultural institutions were more interested in promoting better images of Iran and focusing more on the country's artistic achievements and less on politics. Therefore, they informed Massumi that it was up to her to edit-out the end sequence that reveals the personal information of the Jews on trial and the following statement claiming they did not receive a fair trial.
Results of Incident: Massumi decided to withdraw Trial from the exhibit. She expressed frustration at the response to her work since she made it clear that her piece would deal with human rights, and therefore speak out against the government. She believed that the French institutions did not want to create any hostility between France and Iran due to her work. The French government denies they had any political agenda influencing their responses to her work. Nicholas Mirzoeff, an art and comparative studies professor at SUNY Stony Brook, has attempted to spread awareness of the case by contacting curators of Jewish museums in the US. The curators apparently do not feel confident that they can influence French officials. Trial is anticipated to travel to Tehran's Museum of Contemporary Art in October 2001.
Source: The Forward 6.8.01.
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