I am pleased to be able to report that despite the challenging political climate in 2019, IHF was able to enjoy another very successful year. We have continued with our regular monthly programme, we are involved with a forthcoming major exhibition, we have finalised the incorporation of the Persian Language Foundation in to the IHF, we have managed to maintain three institutional partnerships, we have maintained momentum on the Tappeh Sialk project, we have embarked on a publication programme and as usual we have disbursed grants for academic research and work with the contemporary arts.
I reported last year that discussions were well advanced with the Persian Language Foundation to take over its operation, and the Foundation and its website (Persian Language Online) are now officially under the auspices of IHF. I regard the incorporation of the PLOL as one of the best things that has happened during my tenure as CEO of IHF. Study of Persian language and literature are one of the core objectives of IHF, and it makes eminently good sense that the PLOL website should come under the umbrella of IHF. We will now do our best to expand the website, increase its remit, and make sure that it is a worldwide resource for all those wanting to study Persian at whatever level.
During the past year IHF has been much involved in doing research and making preparations for the exhibition Epic Iran which is due to open at the Victoria and Albert Museum in October 2020. IHF is organising this exhibition jointly with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Sarikhani Art Foundation. This exhibition should be a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to the world the remarkable highlights of Iranian art during a 5000-year period. It will be the first exhibition to cover the whole period of Iranian art in the UK since the great exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1931, and it goes without saying that it comes at an opportune moment.
As supporters of IHF will know, we held two very successful international conferences about the site of Tappeh Sialk near Kashan in March 2017 and July 2018. This is the most important pre-Achaemenid archaeological site in Iran, if not in the Middle East, and IHF is privileged to have been at the forefront of an international initiative to make the site better known and lobby for its registration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Selected papers from these two conferences have now been published in a volume entitled Tappeh Sialk: the Glory of Ancient Iran. In a new departure for our organisation, this book has been self-published by IHF, with help from Elizabeth Bourchier who has also taken on responsibility for the distribution. It is gratifying to record that already there has been a strong demand for the book from libraries and booksellers, and it has been possible to distribute a number of complimentary copies to scholars interested in Sialk and to colleagues in Iran. In November a third Sialk conference was held in Paris at the Louvre, co-organised by IHF with the Musée du Louvre and the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, and presentations were made by scholars from France, Germany and Iran. It is planned that there should be a further Sialk conference in Berlin in 2020.
Monthly events at Asia House included talks about Rumi manuscripts and the John Rylands Library in Manchester, a subject close to the heart of our trustee Amin Amiri; the ever fascinating story of Persepolis, surely the most impressive site in the whole of the ancient world; and learning the Persian language, a lecture which provided an opportunity to celebrate the fact that the PLOL website was now under the wing of the IHF. A talk about women in Achaemenid Persia demonstrated that although women were only very rarely depicted in the art of the time, textual evidence indicated that their lot was certainly no worse than women in other parts of the Ancient Near East, and that in Persia they sometimes achieved power and influence. Sarah Piram, the new IHF curator of Islamic art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, spoke about André Godard, the subject of her current PhD dissertation. He was an architect who became Iran’s first director of antiquities, and although his design of the new national museum with an entrance in the form of a Sasanian iwan has been much praised, he has also been much criticised for allowing the continuation of dealer excavations. Our last event of the year marked the 200th anniversary of Goethe’s publication of his West-östlicher Diwan, and we had readings from the poetry of Goethe and Hafez together with delightful music provided by singer Eloise Irving, accompanied by Roderick Morris on the violin. The event proved to be very popular, and has inspired us to think about organising similar functions in the future.
We have also focused on contemporary programmes. We were pleased to be able to organise two events in association with the Courtauld Institute of Art that were held at the Courtauld’s temporary premises in Vernon Square. Both were on the object of ‘contemporary Iranian practices and aesthetics’ and involved Sussan Babaie in conversation with an artist, firstly Reza Aramesh and secondly Sussan Deyhim. Thanks are due to Sussan and to Vali Mahlouji for arranging these interesting interviews which introduced new audiences to IHF.
IHF also had the privilege of sponsoring another event in which Sussan Babaie was involved, a symposium at the Royal Academy of Arts to mark the publication of a book by her and Roxane Zand on Geometry and Art in the Modern Middle East. In the course of a Saturday morning there were presentations by three artists and one architect discussing the use and application of geometry in their work.
An innovation in 2019 was a Chairmen’s Dinner at the Dorchester Hotel hosted by Ali Rashidian and Alireza Rastegar. Best thanks are due to Mahnaz Kamel for organising this dinner. We spent a very enjoyable evening being entertained by the comedian Omid Djalili but there was a more serious purpose behind the evening, namely to raise money for an IHF endowment. It is now recognised that to ensure it can deliver its present mission in the future, IHF must have an endowment. At this critical juncture in world history, it is more important than ever that in the years to come IHF will be in a position to protect and promote Iranian cultural heritage for the benefit of future generations. We can only make sure that this will happen, and that IHF will be sustainable, by creating an endowment now. I urge everybody who can to contribute to our
There are a few staff matters to report. Following the departure of Massoumeh Parker at the end of 2018, Sam Baring filled the role of administrator until the end of July 2019. He was then succeeded by Leonard Gethin from August 2019 onwards. Leonard is working half-time as the IHF administrator and half-time as the Persian Language Online coordinator. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sam for his efforts while he was with us, and to welcome Leonard. Lastly, warmest congratulations are due to Nahid Assemi, who has been an integral part of the IHF team for over 20 years, for successfully completing her PhD thesis entitled Of Piety, Lamentation and Tears: Takkiyya Muavin al-Mulk in Kermanshah and the Building of a Nation. It is to be hoped that this thesis will soon be published to draw attention to a very remarkable and much under-valued building in Kermanshah.
Finally I would like to pay a special tribute to Vahid Alaghband, the Chairman of IHF for many years, who stepped down from the Board during the year. He has been a stalwart of IHF since its inception and the success of IHF during the last 20 years is largely due to his energy, wisdom and vision. He will be sorely missed.
Dr John Curtis, OBE, FBA, FSA
Chief Executive Officer