Art and Literature

Entries about creativity in all its forms, plus original creative material.

Iranian actress as a defiant witness

JOHN COSTELLO / Staff Photographer
A haunting role: Aghdashloo stars in the film that indicts the Islamic Republic’s treatment of women.

Shohreh Aghdashloo says she was born to play the storyteller in "The Stoning of Soraya M."

Shohreh Aghdashloo's face will haunt you long after you walk out of the Iranian-born actress' stunning new film, The Stoning of Soraya M.

Based on French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's 1994 best-seller and directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, Stoning is the disturbing true story of a young woman stoned to death in a rural village in Iran after being falsely accused of adultery.

A devastating indictment of the Islamic Republic's treatment of women, the film's first scenes establish an emotional intensity that never lets down.

Aghdashloo, who plays Soraya's bereft aunt Zahra, kneels down beside a stream, gathering what look like human bones. Framed by an unruly wave of thick black hair, her face is wild. Twisted with anguish. Mad with grief.

After lovingly washing what we later discover are Soraya's bones, Zahra piles them up in a small burial mound. (Because of her alleged sin, Soraya was denied burial and left to be eaten by wild dogs.)

Aghdashloo's powerhouse on-screen presence belies her petite 5-foot-5 stature. Dressed in an elegant and simple black dress, the actress, 57, best known for her Oscar-nominated role in 2003's House of Sand and Fog and her controversial turn as a terrorist mother in 24, played the gracious host in her small suite in the Sofitel in Center City.

{josquote}The actress said her next film, Mona's Dream, tackles Iran's persecution of Baha'is. It's the true story of a 16-year-old Baha'i girl hanged in 1983.

She said that like Stoning, "it's not a political movie, it's a humanitarian movie."{/josquote}

Events in Iran, where unprecedented numbers have protested the reelection of hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have eerily shadowed the film's message and imagery.

Critics have remarked on the parallels between Soraya's bloody face and that of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year-old woman shot during a demonstration five days before Stoning opened on Friday.

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John Donne: Poet-Priest

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Simon Schama’s BBC Documentary on John Donne, a poet whose challenging output dazzled me as a young man, was screened just after I had finished reading John Stubbs’ excellent biography (See Levi Stahl for a balanced review), Donne: The Reformed Soul. These twin experiences set me thinking about him once more.

There is a lot we can learn from looking at the life and work of this man. He also lived as we do in a turbulent time, in his case on the run in to the English Civil War and Puritan Revolution. He was an indirect descendant of Thomas More, the man for all seasons who was executed on the orders of Henry VIII when he wouldn’t agree to Henry’s divorce, and who, while in prison himself, reputedly arranged for the death of William Tyndale, whose inspired translation of the Bible into English is the foundation of the King James version. It was not a time noted for its tolerance, while ours is seeing tolerance eroded on all sides.

Donne began life as a Catholic and ended it as an Anglican priest, Dean of St Paul’s. In between he was a reprobate and love poet before transforming into a great religious poet and one of the greatest sermon writers of any age in England or perhaps anywhere.

He is perhaps most famous for the quote ‘no man is an island, entire of itself’.

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Baha'is featured in major Glasgow exhibition

The experiences of two members of the Scottish Bahá’í community have been featured in an exhibition on the subject of pilgrimage, staged at a prestigious Glasgow museum.

The exhibition, at the St.Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, entitled Sacred Journeys: Expressions of Faith, explored the journeys of nine different religious adherents from Glasgow, two of whom - Menai Shahim and Carrie Varjavandi - are Bahá’ís who have recently returned from their pilgrimages to the Bahá’í holy places in the Haifa-Acre area of northern Israel.

Cabinets and panels explored aspects of pilgrimage in the different religions, showing objects associated with the journey and displaying quotations from the pilgrims themselves who were also featured in moving video testimonials about the  spiritual journeys they experienced.

The St.Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art showcases the importance of religion in people’s lives across the world. “The museum plays a vital role in promoting understanding and respect about faiths in the city and in Scotland as a whole,” said Allan Forsyth, spokesperson for the Scottish Bahá’í community.

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Gate of the Heart

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On Saturday, in the lunchtime between sessions of a meeting at the Bahá’í National Centre in London, I was walking by the Serpentine in the pouring rain with a very good friend, who is a fellow member of Bookaholics Anonymous. I am withholding his name in order not to embarrass him by that revelation: that’s what anonymous means, in any case, doesn’t it?

As usual the conversation turned to books. We don’t begin in any formal way, for example by saying, ‘My name is Pete Hulme and I am a Bookaholic. I have not read a book for six years, five months and seven days.’ Nobody would believe me if I said that anyway.

In fact, the whole purpose of our conversations, when they turn to books, is to talk in detail and with great enthusiasm, about our latest read. By analogy, it would be rather as if I turned up at an AA meeting and said, ‘I went to the off-licence the other day and found this absolutely fantastic Beaujolais, tangy and aromatic,’ or whatever wine buffs say, ‘and I know you’d really enjoy it.’

{josquote}Nothing exists independent from any other thing, and nothing can be adequately understood without reference to the totality of being.{/josquote}

As the rain pelted on our umbrellas and we pounded the path by the sodden sand of the horse riding track, my friend mentioned a book, this book - Gate of the Heart. He said it spoke of a fountain in Paradise which divided into four springs, the source of four rivers: a river of purest water, a river of milk, a river of honey and a river of wine (in the mystic sense of course – we’re not back at the AA meeting again.) And I found my spine tingling and my heart begin to stir. 

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