Temporary Museum of Subjective Histories: Tehran-Berlin 1979-2009
“This summer I stumbled upon this T-shirt in an American Apparel shop in downtown Los Angeles. 24.00 $ is the price of this textile solidarity gesture. The company’s website claims political support of the more than 1 million Iranians living in greater Los Angeles. It’s surprising to see how many voices from the neoliberal camp, especially in the US, all of a sudden are proclaiming their sympathies with the Iranian civil rights movement. Does free Iran only mean free (market) Iran? This shirt subsequently builds the start of my diasporic collection of ephemeral objects and anecdotal documents that are related to the 30-year anniversary of the Iranian revolution, and its shattered fragments, lost legacies, and continuous traumata.
Research and Installation at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse Berlin, December 2009, as part of the festival “Happy Revolution”. With Afagh Irandoust
„In 1979 we didn’t revolt, we exploded. Our arm landed in Europe, a leg in India, a toe in England, the head flew to America. What remained in the homeland of those who went to the streets against a hypocritical, dictatorial regime, is our stomach, which keeps throwing up ever since.”
These are the words of writer Abbas Maroufi, when interviewed for this project. The Temporary Museum is aiming to locate some of these scattered corporeal and biographical fragments.
How does politics manifest itself in our private lives? Which unconscious connection points can we trace when we follow individual lifelines in this rhizome-like meshwork we call History? Following these questions we started to collect documents and objects of private ownership in Berlin – personal trivia, objects kept over decades for nostalgic value or because they are the memorial and material carrier of desires, dreams and trauma. They all in some sense relate to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and its repercussions and implications up to the “Green Revolution” of 2009. We talked to people whose lives are connected to the spatial and time-based axis of Tehran-Berlin, 1979-2009, and asked them about the things they collected and kept until today. What is it that remains from the lived experiences of the revolution, the state of exile, the sentiments of distance, resistance, repression, renewed hope?
2009 was the year of nationally celebrated anniversaries both in Germany and Iran: 60 years of the Federal Republic of Germany, 20 years of the Fall of the Berlin Wall and 30 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This small, by its nature incomplete museum seeks to enrich these official histories with a few subjective, disturbing or disruptive noises and temporal hick-ups, aiming for a more personal, multi-linear and associative perspective on History.
At the core of the I.R.Iran is a very dominant cult of remembrance that keeps the 1979 revolution and the war against Iraq in the 1980s alive in the public consciousness. Numerous cemeteries and museums dedicated to the martyrs of the Revolution present the last belongings of those fallen for the regime in glass boxes and their pictures on hundreds of public murals. Yet those forced to flee from this repressive regime, whose destinies will always be traumatically linked to this historical event, are ghostly absent in the constructions of official historiography.
With about 5 million Iranians living abroad, there are by now diasporic archives, television and radio channels. One of them is the “Archive for Research and Documentation Iran Berlin – AFDI”, in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Since 1991, the archivists have been collecting everything that is being written about Iran both domestically and abroad in their free time, gathering what is probably one of the largest, publicly accessible archive on the topic. A small part of the AFDI archive is on display within our temporary museum at the Ballhaus Naunynstraße Berlin for the occasion of the exhibition.
This Temporary Museum of Subjective Histories is an archive of associations; it can not and does not want to give a historical overview of Iran or Iranians in Berlin. It argues for an open and conscious handling of history, which includes the unconscious conncections, the possibility of constant re-reading and re-writing and the affective dimensions that historiography tends to neglect.
A Selection of Objects from the Temporary Museum of Subjective Histories: Tehran-Berlin, 1979-2009:
“My father had just been murdered at what was know as the “Mykonos” assassination in Berlin, and we moved to Los Angeles to my uncles and cousins. They had convinced my mother to come to America, also to distract ourselves from what had happened. My mother was heavily traumatized and she barely spoke a word. She was in a different world, so far away somehow, and severely depressed of course. (…) We arrived in LA and my uncle mad great efforts to get my mother out of her depression. That wasn’t easy. One day he said: come, let’s all go to Disneyland. And all of a sudden I was at the supposedly happiest place in the world with my traumatized mother. I myself was traumatized too and always tried to escape into dream worlds. I spoke much less than before. Disney was such an ideal world for me. Fairy tales and other stories that gave me some kind of comfort and serenity I could dive into. I was running around, overwhelmed by the colors, such an overstimulation. My mother tried to take part in all of this. Today I now how difficult it must have been for her, she basically wasn’t present, but she wanted to do me this favor. It was completely absurd: She was mourning and I rad away, ran after Pinocchio, Snow White and all the others.” Sara, Student
„Dear Mr. President Richard v. Weizsäcker, Chancellor Kohl, Members of Parliament! I want the war between Iran and Iraq to end, because many children and adults are being killed there. I believe that the war can end soon, when no more weapons are being brought to Iran and Iraq. Zara, 8 years”
“It’s 1988. I remember how I often watch the daily news and talk shows with my parents. I tried to listen carefully but failed to fully understand. My parents seem sad and shocked over the war between Iran and Iraq. They are especially angry about the killings, the losses, and the manipulations from all sides. There are rumors that Germany is delivering weapons to both Iran and Iraq or has done so in the past. A politician in one of the TV debates categorically denies allegations of any arms exports. I see how upset my parents get hearing that. I ask if I could do anything. You could write them a letter, ask them to stop selling weapons. So I sit down and write. I still remember feeling nervous, trying to write neatly and without any mistakes, as I am addressing “important people”. And I can still feel the sense of responsibility that I felt as an eight-year-old, together with a slight sense of hope and the belief that my letter would actually have an impact. My words did not change anything. I received a letter from the chancellor’s office that I could neither read nor understand by myself. Only much later I learned how to read between the lines and understand everything that this letter is directly and subliminally trying to communicate. Five month later, in August 1988, the war between Iran and Iraq ended with a permanent ceasefire.
“It was over
the last images of my homeland, which was mine, ran by the window of my train compartment
arrived between two frontiers
the zone, that was neither Iran, nor Turkey (maybe it was both)
took out the batteries from the back of my watch
was supposed to stop functioning
a watch, that was attuned to my homeland
it fell asleep
I fell asleep
it was over
my homeland now slept (forever)
“We had a day visa and travelled separately, one after the other, to East-Berlin. We met again at the East German Iranian embassy in Berlin-Pankow. Ahmed T. and I went ahead, knocked at the embassy’s door and said that we wanted to marry. The others remained behind. When the door opened we stormed the embassy. We declared that this was a peaceful action, that we wanted to occupy the embassy for a few hours and call the media. The press was there pretty quickly and we made into the evening news. After a few hours police came and arrested us all. In an immediate court case we were sentenced to 10-12 months in prison. We were shocked, nobody had thought they would be so harsh.
They took us to a prison, probably the Stasi prison in Hohenschönhausen. A prison like in a film, with a covered courtyard and corridors with endless prison cells. We were interrogated for a very long time. They asked us all kind of details, about our families in Iran, which school we went to etc. After several hours we were taken into another truck and brought to some kind of basement. All of sudden we walked into an underground train station. A train arrived and the police asked us to get on it. And when we got in we realized the police men had not come with us. The next stop was Zoologischer Garten, in West-Berlin. I was so shocked that I bought a Bratwurst, a grilled sausage. That was quite a positive surprise, we were convinced that we would have to stay in prison for at least 10 months. Still, as a consequence, I wasn’t allowed to transit through the GDR anymore, our verdict was still valid. If we wanted to leave West-Berlin we had to go by plane from now on.”
“When I left Tehran in 1983, I had a full beard. I was being politically prosecuted and a friend had recommended that I let my beard grow. I thought this was a good idea. It really became fully grown. It was supposed to be my protection, so that people thought I was Hisbollahi. Right after I was in a shared cab, and as usual I was starting to rant against our politicians. I realized that the other passengers did not say anything. Only one of them looked at me cautiously. I asked them why they remained silent. He answered apologetically: Haji Agha, why you? I had completely forgotten how I looked, my beard. I said, this is only my Dokkan, my “shop”, my façade only. I had to wear it since I was being politically prosecuted. I wanted to escape Iran via the Soviet Union. I had no money and the immigration to the West cost150.000 Tuman, which was almost 30.000 Marks, which I couldn’t afford. I always wanted to get to Paris, this was my ideal place, the paradise of my thoughts. Instead I landed in Baku, then Moscow, then East-Berlin, in April 1984. (…)
This razor is the only thing that I kept from that time. It reminds me of my time before my prosecution. I shaved immediately after I crossed the border. I was traveling with a group of several other refugees for around one week. When I came out of the bath room, freshly shaved, nobody recognized me.”
Jalal, Writer and journalist
“Back then I was filming on the streets a lot. I think this Super-8 reel is of the first Hussain street processions that were permitted publicly again in 1977, and the last demonstration of women on March 8 1979. This was when women were demonstrating against the obligatory veil. The revolution happened in February and on the 9th of March all women were already supposed to wear the veil. This is why they went onto the streets. At the same time so many women had participated in the revolution, sometimes dressed like soldiers. I was very impressed that all these pretty female students – because so many of them were so pretty – all of a sudden covered themselves up, with long gloves, and fully veiled. The same girls that had just worn mini skirts. (…)” Mercedes Scharf, in Tehran from 1973-1979 as the wife of the German cultural attaché