An exquisite new exhibition brings home my long obsession with Iran

I know exactly when Iran first took hold of me. En 1979, I was at school in Jaffa, Israel, my classmates mostly Arab children and the offspring of assorted diplomats. One morning, we arrived for our first lesson to find some desks empty; the Iranian girls and boys, it seemed, were all elsewhere (relations between Israel and Iran were then, bizarre as this sounds now, fully functional). It was explained to us that there had been a revolution. My friend Shirin, it seemed, had returned to Tehran with her family. Even as my teacher smilingly insisted that, sí, of course I would see her again one day, I already understood that I wouldn’t.

Thereafter, I never stopped wondering about Iran. What was it like? What strange powers did it hold? I read books about it, I watched films about it and, eventually, I managed to get inside it. I visited Persepolis and the tomb of the poet Hafez in Shiraz. In Isfahan, a cleric whacked me on the back when my scarf slipped. In Yazd, home of Zoroastrianism, my guide broke into an exuberant rendition of Queen’s I Want to Break Free at the top of the city’s Tower of Silence (Freddie Mercury was a Zoroastrian by birth; the tower is one of the structures on which Zoroastrians traditionally left their dead).

I like the way life works in circles, taking you back to where you began. Last Tuesday, I was invited to the opening of the V&A’s exhibition, Irán épico, an event so thrilling for me that not even the sight of Oliver Dowden could dent my mood (distracted by a famous photograph of a girl making a bubble with her gum, I managed not to accost the culture secretary, keen though I am to know what he plans to do about the nation’s beleaguered musicians, who now need visas to tour in Europe).

You will, quizás, have read about the V&A’s incredible recreation of the domes of Isfahan, of the exquisite carpets, tiles and manuscripts. But on the night my favourite object was a tiny, easy-to-miss painting of 1495. It depicts the construction of a palace. Scaffolding has been raised, mortar is being mixed. What makes it so charming, and so modern, is that the men working on the site seem so exaggeratedly busy. A well-earned tea break – fetch the samovar! – is surely only moments away.

Because I would like my back to be less painful, and my bum to be smaller, I’ve finally invested in a standing desk. It comprises three bits of beechwood: slotted together, you perch the result on your existing desk. It’s harder to concentrate standing up; so far, I only use it when writing emails. But this zen lectern also, I believe, gives me the aura of a Japanese architect. I am calm. I am omnipotent. I need some fancy new minimalist clothes.

Next month, la Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in east London reopens after an £18m refurbishment: good timing, given the enforced nesting of the last 12 meses. Those thoroughly sick of cooking and cleaning will enjoy a new room dedicated to housework, starring mad-looking ancient vacuum cleaners and posters by the See Red Women’s Workshop, a 1970s printing collective. In one, a skit on the Ladybird books many of us remember from childhood, docile Jane, Mummy’s little helper, is transformed into a mini-radical. “Stuff this,” she thinks, shoving aside her duster. “It’s about time I started giving girls an example of all the other things we can do.”

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