21 April–4 October 2015
Whitechapel Gallery, Pat Matthews Gallery (Gallery 4)
Free entry

The Whitechapel Gallery presents a new archive display which documents the history of the Festival of Arts Shiraz-Persepolis, a ground-breaking international arts festival held around Shiraz, Iran, every summer from 1967–1977. Rarely seen photographs, posters, publications, audio and video documenting significant cultural and historical moments in the Festival’s history go on show at the Whitechapel Gallery from 21 April 2015.

The ancient ruins of Persepolis were one of the spectacular backdrops for the open-air festival of traditional and avant-garde music, theatre and performance. The programme featured artists from both East and West, including the Beatles’ muse, sitar player Ravi Shankar, American composer John Cage, prolific Polish artists and theatre directors such as Tadeusz Kantor and Jerzy Grotowski, as well as Rwandan drummers and Balinese Gamelan musicians and dancers.

Highlights of this display include atmospheric black and white photographs of a performance of Orghast, a play by poet Ted Hughes and Mahin Tajadod, co- directed by Peter Brook, Arby Ovanessian, Geoffrey Reeves and Andrei Serban in the ancient ruins, shown alongside images of American choreographer Merce Cunningham’s dancers performing against the bas-reliefs of Persepolis. Also on show is documentation of Japanese artist Shuji Terayama performing vertically on the façade of a nineteenth century garden pavilion and Ugandan playwright Robert Serumaga directing in an open square in the Shiraz bazaar.

The festival came to an end with the Iranian revolution and the fall of the Shah, but its legacy remains. It is brought to life through this display of archive material seen for the first time in the UK.

A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts Shiraz-Persepolis is part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s ongoing programme of displays curated from guest archives and drawing on the Whitechapel Gallery’s own history. A series of events including talks and tours accompanies the exhibition.

Notes to editors

– A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts Shiraz-Persepolis is guest curated by Vali Mahlouj, Curator, with Nayia Yiakoumaki, Curator Archive Gallery at the Whitechapel Gallery and Habda Rashid, Assistant Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery.

– The project is supported by the A Utopian Stage: Festival of the Arts Shiraz Persepolis Exhibition Circle.

– The Whitechapel Gallery archive exhibitions are generously supported by Catherine and Franck Petitgas and The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

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