Tarlan Parvaneh, Mohammad-Reza Ghaffari, and Mahtab Keramati on a panel at the 36th Fajr Film Festival in 2018. Their all-black attire was worn to raise awareness about sexual violence. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Several Iranian artists have announced their decision to boycott the Fajr festivals in Tehran following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Held every February to mark the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Fajr festivals are Iran’s state-sponsored visual art, film, theatre, and music events.

The IRGC admitted to accidentally shooting down the commercial airliner after days of denying responsibility, spurring anti-government demonstrations in Iran. Visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians withdrawing from the festivals are acting in solidarity with protesters and with those mourning the loss of loved ones involved in the crash, which killed all 176 passengers on board. 

Participants who have decided to forego the 38th edition of the Fajr Film Festival include filmmaker Masoud Kimiai, actresses Fatemeh Motamed Arya and Mahtab Keramati, and actor and director Hamid Farokhnejad, among others. According to Tehran Times, Kimiai pulled his film There Was Blood from the competition. “It’s a hard time for my people and they hear bad news every day,” he told Persian media. “Under these circumstances I don’t want my film to be shown in the festival.”

Yesterday, Farokhnejad took to Instagram to call out Hojatoleslam Nasrollah Pejmanfar, head of Majlis Cultural Commission, for threatening boycotting artists with a permanent ban on their artistic activities.

Numerous musicians, including Keyvan Saket and Hana Kamkar, have withdrawn from the Fajr Music Festival, and Iranian pop singer Alireza Assar has reportedly canceled an upcoming concert.

Not everyone included in the festival line-up supports the waves of withdrawals, however. Actor and Palme d’Or winner Shahab Hosseini,  whose film The Night will be screened as part of the film festival, criticized the boycott.

“I believe this act will help foster dissension, while society needs unity and solidarity more than at any time these days,” he said in an Instagram post yesterday. “And the idea that those who do not withdraw do not feel grieved and do not feel sympathy is quite wrong. The sacrifice of art and culture is no less of a disaster than any other. This festival can be turned into a memorial for those who were killed in the recent events to help remember their names. It can be a place to express feelings with the families of the victims.”

Boycotts have also affected the 12th Fajr Festival of Visual Arts, scheduled to take place at the Tehran Permanent International Fairgrounds in the second week of February. The festival’s jury members as well as the secretary of this year’s edition, Ebrahim Haqiqi, have all resigned in response to the country’s calamities, as reported by Tehran Times.

Hadi Mozaffari, director of the Culture Ministry’s Visual Arts Office, did not accept Haqiqi’s resignation. “When a disaster happens, the presence of the veterans is a therapy for the disaster, and today we need master Haqiqi and the great masters of art, including the directors and the jury members, more than at any other time,” said Mozaffari in a statement published on Tuesday.

According to Radio Farda, 42 cartoonists and satirists have also signed a letter protesting the plane crash and the government’s disinformation campaign, demanding an investigation and the resignation of those responsible. (The Fajr Festival of Visual Arts includes an illustration section; last year, the 11th edition of the event showcased caricatures and cartoons by 61 artists.)

“We protest against recent events that claimed hundreds of Iranian lives and announce that we will not be present at the Fajr Festival,” read their statement.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...