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Bam fundraising event in New York: "Tonight we are Iranians"

By Matthew Ronald Hermann


The National Iranian American Council held a benefit last Friday at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York to raise funds for victims of December's earthquake in Bam.  Guests at the event donated $3,500 toward the relief effort.


Lead organizer Amir Farrehi introduced the evening's performances, which featured poetry reading by Tehran Theatre Workshop co-founder and Rumi translator Iraj Anvar, Music by singer/songwriter Haale and a special appearance by celebrated photographer and filmmaker Shirin Neshat.  Council board member Hadi Ghaemi closed the evening with a presentation of photographic slides and video footage-shot only a week earlier-of his trip to Bam.


With first-hand visuals of Bam, Mr. Ghaemi's talk-in which he recounted his conversations with survivors recovering from the quake and expressed unmistakably great concern for the city's future-captivated those in attendance.  Over projected scenes of destruction, he questioned the official number of 43,000 dead, saying,


"A local census taker there said-and said I could quote him saying-that he thought as many as 70 or 80 thousand people may have died."


He also emphasized that although NIAC and its charity partners had already raised over $200,000 from web donations, there was still need for a persistent effort.


"The enthusiastic support of the last month has been great, but it needs to be sustained-these people could be living in tents for as long as two years."


Before Mr. Ghaemi's plea for continued support, the program began with entertainment. 


Iraj Anvar opened the evening with a series of Rumi poems, spoken in English and sung in the original Persian, accompanied on the setar, tanbour and daf by Musician Esfandiar Pourmand.  After the performance, Mr. Anvar explained his choice of poems.


"Each poem of Rumi can go with any occasion-but work especially well for a night like this.  So many of them are about loss, yet convey a joy...or a sense of something beyond ourselves."

Later in the evening, Haale entertained the gathered crowd with her music-a unique style that melded American folk and traditional Persian songs.  The interplay of her voice and setar and her drummer Swiss Chris' rhythms drew a loudly positive reaction from the audience.  As did her clothing, a stunning peacock-patterned bead-embroidered jacket and hand-painted skirt designed by Hushi Mortezaie of Michael & Hushi.         


When it came time for her to speak, Shirin Neshat offered brief yet stirring remarks about the recent disaster in Bam and its effect on Iranians worldwide.


"A friend told me that she felt like 'Iran wasn't even Iran anymore'-that the people had fallen into depression and their sense of collective indifference had destroyed the characteristics that made them Iranian," she said.


"This earthquake has made the country rise to its feet and come together.  Tonight, we are not split as pro-government or anti-government; we are not for the shah or not for the shah; we are not rich or poor-together, tonight we are Iranians."

The event, underwritten in part by the Altria Group, Inc., came on the heels of the Bam Fund's benefit concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in January, which raised over $24,000-and ahead of another NIAC-sponsored charity event scheduled for February 25th at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).  With outpourings like these, the New York area Iranian-American Community is making an impressive effort to help the people of Bam recover from December's disaster.



... Payvand News - 2/13/04 ... --

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