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Spirit of Nowruz: Global Persian culture celebrated in new London exhibition

Source: The British Council

A new photography exhibition celebrating Nowruz, the traditional Persian New Year has opened today at the British Council’s headquarters in London.

View the exhibition's booklet

‘The Spirit of Nowruz’ exhibition forms one of the main centrepieces of the British Council’s UK-Iran Season of Culture. The exhibition showcases and celebrates modern Nowruz festivities as they occur in communities across the world. In 2015 Nowruz, or Persian New Year, is celebrated on the 21st March.

In the UK several million people celebrate Nowruz each year. Nowruz is celebrated by more than 300 million people worldwide, and officially marked in 17 countries across the Middle East and Asia.

Curated by renowned artist, writer, and curator Haleh Anvari, this exhibition focuses on the contemporary experience of celebrating Nowruz. The exhibition features submissions of photography, film and animation from artists in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Kurdistan, Iraq, and highlights the breadth of Nowruz’s reach, crossing national borders and including people from different ethnic, linguistic and religious communities.

The celebrated Iranian photographers Abbas Kowsari and Newsha Tavakolian have work displayed in the exhibition, and new commissions of graphic design and animation by Katayoon Forouhesh and a digital Haftseen instillation by Kambiz Safari are displayed for the first time. Historical context is provided through photographs by Max Penson, taken in Uzbekistan in the 1930s and 1940s.

While the subject matter of the photographs is varied, in almost all there is a strong focus on communal activity and engagement with the natural world.

Nowruz: an education pack for schools

Nowruz or ‘New day’ in Persian is a thirteen day New Year celebration which is tied to Zoroastrian and Persian traditions, dating back at least three thousand years. It begins on the first day of spring in the solar calendar, around the 21st of March, a date that marks the New Year for many and is a national holiday in a number of countries.

Danny Whitehead, the British Council’s Country Director Iran, said 'Nowruz is a major international cultural celebration, but is under-recognised in the UK. We're delighted to be able to bring together this exhibition to provide an opportunity for our UK audiences to engage and learn more about Nowruz and the countries, societies, and communities who celebrate it. Nowruz is also widely celebrated by many diaspora communities in the UK, and is now an important UK festival too. We have in the UK perhaps the richest and most culturally diverse of societies, and it is right that Nowruz is recognised along with other celebrations such as Chinese New Year and Diwali as an important part of the calendar.'

Exhibition curator Haleh Anvari said “Nowruz is an ancient Festival celebrated across the Persianate world, but in this exhibition we aimed to show the viewer its prominent place in the contemporary lives of the countries that celebrate it. Marking the arrival of the new year at the precise moment of the arrival of Spring, reconnects us to nature's own rhythm.

“We have tried to share the excitement of the preparation for this New Year celebration and the charm of the varying rituals across a wide region through a series of photographs by both prominent and amateaur regional photographers. The curatorial aim was to highlight the personal experiences of Nowruz across a wide region and spectrum of people.”

Join Spirit of Nowruz online

This exhibition is taking place as part of the British Council’s UK-Iran Season of Culture. Between January and April 2015, the British Council has led a series of activities focusing on the cultural links between Iran and the UK.

Through nationwide exhibitions, performances, discussions, workshops, and seminars, the UK Iran Season of Culture will explore Iran’s cultural heritage and vibrant contemporary creativity, enabling the people of the UK to experience and re-interpret Iran.

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