Shahr-e Qesseh (City of Tales), Bijan Mofid (playwright & director); from left: Soheil Souzani, Mehdi Ali Beigi, Jamileh.Nedai, Mahmood Ostad Mohamad, Rashid Kanaani, commissioned by the Festival, University Hall, 1968. Courtesy of Dariush Hajir / Bijan Mofid Foundation / Archaeology of the Final Decade Archives.

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis is a virtually forgotten and radical international arts festival which took place in Iran between 1967-77. The historical documentation uncovered by Archaeology of the Final Decade reveals a uniquely progressive crucible of intercultural collaboration, which was declared decadent and un-Islamic by fatwa in September 1977. All materials associated with the Festival were removed from public access after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and these materials, as well as the festival itself, remain officially banned in Iran to this day.

In the immediate aftermath of decolonisation, the Festival of Arts put cultural expressions from Asia and Africa on the map as valuable and equal. Its pioneering ‘world stage’ brought together these distant voices alongside Western expressions from both sides of the Iron Curtain. The process of discovery, deconstruction, reorientation, and the affirmation of non-European sensibilities found a natural ally in the internationally fluid and subversive avant-garde, which sought to break from the constraints and stabilities of its own traditions.

The Festival summoned a complex network of artistic perspectives, which resulted in a collective, hyper-modernist, arena of experimentation. Its programme juxtaposed performances ranging from the intimate to the ritual, archaic to contemporary, folkloric to experimental, and satirical to subversive.

The Festival proposed a sophisticated version of universalism that would reject any reductive principle of a unified globalised culture. Instead, the careful selection of programming mapped encounters that dreamt up a utopian vision of heterogeneous unity. This vision was articulated temporally and spatially – the Festival’s stage united diverse expressions across historical time and improvised alternative performance spaces across the open city and nature. This exhibition restages the utopian direction of this contested space of culture and reconsiders the Festival’s paradigm-shifting and radical cultural model coming from the periphery to confront the centre.