Ayat Najafi

Ayat Najafi

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2012/13

Born in Tehran, Ayat Najafi studied scenography in his hometown. Since 2000, he has staged his directorial works to both Iranian and international audiences.

In 2003 Najafi established the Arta Atelier, focusing on an interdisciplinary multimedia approach to theater as well as experimental short and documentary film. He is also an alumnus of the University of Konstanz in the field of cultural studies.

“Lady Tehran,” which Najafi wrote and directed, premiered in Berlin in June 2009. In 2011 he followed with “Rasht-City of Women,” also performed in Berlin.

Najafi's first feature documentary “Football Under Cover,” co-directed by David Assmann, premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008, winning the Teddy Award for best documentary and the Prix Europa Iris for best multicultural television program of 2009. Najafi has also been on several high-profile festival juries.

He has written extensively on art and culture.

Art-As-Research Project

Politics of Tears

Tears play an important role in Shi’ite Islam, as does the act of pretending to cry. Post-revolutionary Iran cannot be understood without recognizing the role of crying.

Soon after the revolution of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini began presenting himself to the public in a characteristic performance: on a wide stage, which stood over a pulpit, he would address both the Iranian public and world leaders. His body language conformed to the behavioral traditions of the previous major Ayatollahs on their Menbars. In his speeches, Khomeini’s every breath was greeted by the loud weeping of the audience.

The politics of tears have been continued in Iran in the post-Khomeini era. Iranian leaders cry in order to relieve pressure, to win elections or gain the sympathy of the public. Ayatollahs have proven to be incredible actors, especially when they need to cry. They also manifest precise and orchestrated body language in their public appearances. They are media professionals: as soon as the camera is rolling, they transform themselves into the stage-character of the Ayatollah. The melody of their words, their diction and the rhythm of their speech is generally the same, with each Ayatollah only adding his own personal touch.

In this project I will study the performative elements of the Ayatollahs’ speeches in Iran and try to show how these speeches interweave performance, culture, politics and religious beliefs. It will be a study of the spaces in which performative political power was generated around the revolution.

Recommended Publications

  • Talattof, K., Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran: The Life and Legacy of Popular Female Artists, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2011.
  • Najmabadi, A., Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005.
  • Chelkowski, P. and Dabbashi, H., Staging a Revolution: The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran, London: Booth-Clibborn, 2002.
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung