2020 was a watershed year, not just for the world at large but also for organisations large and small, and for all charities including the Iran Heritage Foundation. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on IHF were immediate and some are likely to be long-lasting. In the first place, we were obliged to cancel our Norouz Gala Dinner that was scheduled for Saturday 14th March. This was particularly unfortunate as this is our main annual opportunity to raise funds. Then, at the start of the lockdown Asia House closed on Wednesday 18th March and thereafter for the rest of the year we worked mainly from home, with only occasional visits to the office.
In spite of these difficulties, it has been a very productive and successful year. We were very busy working on the Epic Iran exhibition which was originally due to open on 17th October 2020 but, due to the temporary closure of the V&A, has been postponed until Spring 2021. IHF is a co-organiser of the exhibition, together with the V&A and the Sarikhani Collection, and our role has been to curate the ancient (pre-Islamic) part of the exhibition. This work consisted of formulating the narrative, selecting objects, writing part of the catalogue, drafting labels and information panels, liaising with the designers, and attending numerous Zoom meetings with colleagues in the V&A. All this was achieved in spite of the fact that for the months of May-July John Curtis and Astrid Johansen were on furlough. It is gratifying that the preparation for the exhibition has been all-but completed during this turbulent year and we look forward to it opening to the public soon.
To maintain the profile of the Foundation and the public’s appreciation of Iranian civilisation, recordings of a number of IHF’s previous events and documentaries on aspects of Iranian art and culture were made available online for the enthusiasts of Iranian culture to savour. Subsequently new programmes/events were live-streamed online as webinars.
The other major achievement of 2020 has been the further development of the Persian Language Online website. Leonard Gethin has done a tremendous job reforming the look of the website and updating many of its functions. At the same time, he has introduced a regular series of blogs written by Iskandar Ding, a post-graduate student in Iranian Studies at SOAS, pertaining to the study of the Persian language, which have proved to be very popular.
At the beginning of the lockdown, in order to maintain the profile of the foundation and before an online programme was put together, regular newsflashes were sent out with information about previous event recordings as well as links to other interesting online content, such as a guided tour of the Louvre Lens’s 2018 exhibition on Qajar art ‘The Rose Empire’
. These also included a newly-recorded talk by John on ‘Gardens of Ancient Iran’
and a previously unavailable recording of ‘The restoration of medieval monuments in the Iranian world, especially Central Asia’
by Prof. Robert Hillenbrand.
Before the lockdown in March we were able to hold just two of our live monthly events at Asia House, the launch of a new book by David Chaffetz on divas
in January, and a presentation about wind-catchers in Yazd by Susan Roaf in March. From September onwards we switched to doing events on Zoom, and had presentations by Nic Sekunda and Sheila Canby on the Persian invasions of Greece and the depiction of Indians in Safavid art respectively, a discussion between Venetia Porter and the artists Tarlan Rafiee and Yashar Samimi Mofakham in Tehran, and recitations by Zahra Afsah for Yalda. These virtual events have involved new audiences from all around the world and have proved to be immensely popular, so much so that IHF must consider continuing to do them after restrictions are lifted, perhaps alongside live events and hybrid events.
Also during the year we have organised an online course in Persian calligraphy, taught by Keramat Fathinia, we have supported posts at the Victoria and Albert Museum and at the University of St Andrews, and under the umbrella of the Nahrein Network scheme we have arranged for the virtual placement of an Iranian scholar at Oxford.
Lastly it should be reported that during the year we moved to smaller quarters in Asia House preparatory to a proposed move to SOAS in summer 2021. There have also been staff changes, in that John stepped down from the CEO position at the end of September to become the Academic Director and Astrid was appointed Director of Operations as from 1st October 2020.
We are grateful that IHF has managed to weather the storm that was 2020 and look forward to continuing its activities in 2021, not least the much-anticipated opening of Epic Iran which we are sure will be a great success in promoting Iranian cultural heritage.
John Curtis and Astrid Johansen