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"Empress of the Arts"

5/27/03 By Darius Kadivar

Empress Farah's deep interest and personal involvement in the arts have been largely responsible for Iran's many cultural movements and her frequent visits to art exhibitions and performances gave fresh incentive to all Iranian artistic activities. She supported young Iranian artists through her personal endeavors, and was a driving force behind a number of specialized art museums and other projects to preserve and publicize ancient and traditional art and architecture. Should we mention the two main spheres of action of Her Imperial Majesty in Iran, it would certainly be the one of culture and that of the emancipation of women. Between her wedding to the Shah and the fall of the monarchy, women played an increasingly important role in public life.


In the late fifties the "Shy Art Student" in Paris was to conquer the Kings Heart and become the First Persian Queen ever to be crowned in 1967.

Parliament deputies, senators, ministers, ambassador, lawyers, judges etc., women were in all high national and local instances and occupied important positions in all areas of the administration. The emancipation of women as well as the economic and social reforms, which took place deeply, modified the structures of Iranian society. As Third Wife of the Shah (succeeding to Fawzia, and Soraya) She was the only one to be ever crowned Empress.


Art Medal of the Empress, The Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children, the Royal Couple congratulating the legendary Russian Dancer Rudolf Nureyev and Co-Dancer Fontaine after a performance at Roudaki Hall. 1970's.

The former Art Student in Paris was an keen painter, and very much interested in the works of modern Artists. In search of a new inspiration during the swinging 60's many young Pop Artists, such as Andy Warhol, or Haute Couturiers and Jewel makers like Christian Dior , Arthus Bertrand or the then young and creative Yves Saint Laurent:, were to see in the young and beautiful Farah Diba and "former Art Student" a new "egerie" and "Ambassadrice de Charme et d'Elegance" (aka "Ambassadress of Charm and Beauty" )

(Left Top ) Andy Warhol and "Farah" Painting, ( Left Bottom) November 1959 Paris Yves Saint Laurent and Farah Diba, Center French Star Catherine Deneuve Shows Off with an Yves Saint Laurent Robe for Helmut Newton in front of an official portrait of the Coronation of 1967. .© Helmut Newton Right Farah Diba The unknown Art student in Paris and soon to become Empress leaves Christian Dior

During the numerous State visits of the Empress to the United States, Soviet Union, Holland, West Germany  (where her shortcut hairstyle was to be copied) or to Turkey where the Royal Couple were particularly appreciated often appearing in the Turkish Peoples magazines.

The New Persian Queen on World magazine covers

As one of the most Elegant couples of the 1960's the Shah and Shahbanou were a subject of scrutiny for photographs especially during their State visits, often stealing the Show to their hosts as was the case during their State visits to the Kennedy's in the early 1960's

Left The Royal couple on a State visit to Washington DC with the Kennedys and Left to Right Empress Farah, and the Queens of Netherlands Juliana, Charlotte, and Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain mid 1960's.

The Empress' sense of communication, availability and simplicity was also earning her fame as "The Working Empress"
She was also behind the creation of the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children known as "Kanun va Parvaresh" which was later to open a Film section which were to propulse some of the future Iranian Film Directors such as the famed Abbas Kiarostami among others.

Among the various cultural achievements under the patronage of the Empress one can note that of the Restoration of Old Palaces such as Golestan, or Saadabaad, but also National monuments from Shiraz' Persepolis to Isfahans Tchehel Setoun. The Restoration of an Old Caravansarai, into a Hotel known as Hotel Shah Abbas was also to become a favorite place for tourists visiting the Enchanting City of 1001 Nights. The latter was to become famous for the settings of the Agatha Christies 1974 Thriller "The Ten Little Indians" aka "And then they were none" with Charles Aznavour, Stephane Audran, Sir Richard Attenborough, Britt Eckland and Oliver Reed among others.

The Beautiful Shah Abbas Hotel in Isfahan was an old Caravansarai. It was restored and the furnished was partially inspired by those of the Persian Monarchs in Persepolis. DR. Farhang Mehr prominent scholar, Zoroastrian and Chairman of Pahlavi University was in charge of the restorations.

Also the completion of the Roudaki Hall Opera House in 1967, nearly ten years in the building, filled a major gap in Tehran's cultural life by providing a modern opera house and concert hall equipped with the very latest theatrical and electrical devices. The hall, built under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts was named after the blind 10th century poet Roudaki, the first great classical poet of Iran, and provides accommodation for audiences of up to 1,600. The architect was a Persian American, Dr. Eugene Aftandilian, who studied in Iran. The floodlit marble entrance foyer incorporates the traditional Talar motif. Behind, towers the mass of the main building.

Maurice Béjart performance at the Roudaki Hall (Center) in 1971. The Persian Ballet was to actually thrive under the Pahlavi Era (photo courtesy Nima Kiann of Les Ballets Persans ) as seen here "Bijan and Manijeh" a classical ballet choreographed by Aida Ahmadzadeh

By contrast to the Hall's overpowering vertical exterior, its horseshoe theater within has the cozy, white-and-gold, red-plush air of a 19th century European opera house, complete with two tiers of boxes and gallery above. In 1966 Robert de Warren was appointed artistic director of the National Company, which performs at "Roudaki Hall Opera House" in Tehran, and the "Iranian National Ballet" was formally founded in 1967 by Nejad Ahmadzadeh at the time of coronation festivities in Tehran. For this occasion many respected artists such as Hehudi Menuhin, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and ensembles including Grands Ballets Classiques de France, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow Symphony Orchestra, ... visited Tehran and the Roudaki Hall. Later guest producers included William Dollar, Ivon Pattersen, Anne Heaton, Vakhtang M. Chaboukiani and others. A varied repertoire was created and the Ministry of Culture and Arts partially sponsored the company. Collaboration with American and European dance establishments in cities such as New York, Paris, London and Brussels started. In 1969 Rudolf Nurejev and Margot Fonteyn visited Iran and set up the ballet of Le Corsaire on the national scene.

The Empress seen by modern Artist Mac Avoy 1977.

The Roudaki Hall was also to host the International Film Festival of Teheran and its Famous Golden Ibex was to honor the Film profession. Orson Welles was to receive a particular tribute and Life Achievement Golden Ibex Award in the mid Seventies for the entire career.

The Golden Ibex the Persian equivalent of the Oscars was created in the early 1970's, and Posters
of the Shiraz Festival of Arts and Ballets Performances at Roudaki Hall

The Shiraz Festival of Arts was also to become a center of attraction for Iranian and International Artists. Choreographer Peter Brook and other famed
Avant Garde works of artists such as Berthold Brecht and Karlheinz Stockhausen compositions were to perform at this festival.

In this Autumn 1995 picture, Farah Pahlavi is seen at the Sorbonne on the occasion of the Bicentennial of the Institute of France. The only woman of the and its youngest foreign associate, the Empress is surrounded here by French academicians in full regalia. © Photo courtesy Imapress - Paris

The Empress contribution to the World of Arts has been recognized over the years. She is one of the Rare Royal honorary member of the French Academy of Arts ( L'Academie des Beaux Arts), and continues to show interest in the works of young Iranian Artists.

Authors Notes:

It should be noted that the Empress played no major political role during the Reign of her Husband the Mohamed Reza Shah Pahlavi, her actions were clearly defined and limited by the Constitution and merely focused in the fields of Arts, Education and Social Welfare and Health (her work particularly in trying to irradiate Leprosy as well as help the victims of this disease to be accepted by the society was extremely important). As often during the frequent unfortunate earthquakes that hit Iran, She did not hesitate to visit the victims as during the particular Tabas Tragedy in 1978. Immensely popular among Iranians of all class, even to this day, her hard work earned her the title of the "Working Empress" in the World Media she did not hesitate to visit Villages throughout the country as described in her Travel diary of the 1960's and 1970's known as "Safar Nameh".

Special Thanks to Nima Kiann of Les Ballets Persans Websites for the pictures and information regarding Roudaki Hall Ballet Performances and the Excellent Persepolis and Coronation Ceremonies as well as the Empress Farah's Official Website for the Historic and biographical feedbacks.





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