A Performance to Forugh and An Incomplete

Forugh Farrokhzad was born on 5 January 1940 and passed thirty two years later, on February 13. At the time she was the most important contemporary poet of Iran. A poet who was not much liked by the cultural canon and the male world, for she would break the laws of their world in both life and poetry, which were one and the same. In homes they were not so eager for their youth, especially their daughters, to read her poetry — they were considered loose. Men were allowed to do that. But we read and grew up and lived with her poetry.

Two years ago (2004) on her birthday, I prepared a street performance for I believed observing her birthday was more important than wailing her absence. From a bookstore in Bagh-Ferdows in northern Tehran, I set off for Zahir od-Dowleh Cemetery, the poet’s final resting place, with an arm full of posters, a bucket of glue and a brush, like city workers. I had photocopied pages of Forugh’s books and her photographs. I had printed my hand, complete with finger-rings, over these images, as if to leave my own mark on her poetry — Forugh.

Neither my appearance nor what I was gluing to the wall looked like what a city worker would do. People gathered, started reading or checking it out. The elders, the same ones who for a lifetime had forbidden Forugh to their sons and daughters, quickly recognized the face and the poetry — perhaps in secret many had read her. And the younger people seemed to have seen her before. You may refuse to accept Forugh but you cannot ignore her. In a politicized city such as Tehran, many quickly connected her to the current political issues. Here and there they stood around the pictures in discussion. During a three-hour-long walk, the route was filled with posters, even though twice the city workers and police tore the papers off the walls and took away the glue and brush with threats. But in the afternoon, if you would follow the images here and there, you will reach her grave, under the light snow fall of which a small crowd had celebrated her birthday with a small cake.

My plan had been to have another performance 14 days later on the anniversary of her death and follow the same route with a backpack filled with a blue-colored powder. A backpack punched with a hole which would mark the entire route with blue paint. If you were to follow the blue paint, you’d reach Forugh, Forugh Farrokhzad. The heaviest snow of the year fell and I was stuck…. Now maybe this year….


“Forugh Performance” Gallery

A Performance for a Nazr, A Nazr for a Performance

September 7, 2003. Seven boxes of pears. The intention: nazr — a form of pledge, an agreement with God. One hundred kilos of pears is pledged. The money comes from the sale of a piece of gold, which was no doubt precious one day, but that now there was no longer a need for it. What’s more, it had become a burden, a shackle. The 7th of September. My wish to has been fulfilled. I am grateful. I pledged that instead of the usual alms and donations, I offer people a nazr performance in a public space. Nazr is ritual and every ritual has an element of performance.


This nazr is perform in shadow of a mosque, my very own, the only mosque without a minaret, under the Naqsh-e Jahan sky, facing Ali-Qapu Place, which at one time had been the royal Safavi residence. The women of the harem would come to this mosque through an underground passage. “Sheikh Lotfollah” is the only mosque in the Islamic world intended for women. Of the two elements usually found in mosques — the male minaret and female dome — it has only the dome. A simple square-shaped geometry forms its interior space and tiled latticed windows carry the rays of light diagonally inside. It has no glory and magnificence and is beautiful and peaceful, befitting of women who had to be calm, patient and pretty.

The half-shadows of a September afternoon — the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Esfahan

A ten-meter canvas tarp is spread out in front of the mosque’s entry. Seven boxes of pears, fresh and cleanly washed, are set on top of it for the nazr. People are at first hesitant then come forth with questions, waiting for an offer. The pears are spread out over the canvas and some tumble in the half shadows, with the seductive small of their waists, their unassuming poetry hidden and revealed in their shape.

We are ready — the pears, my fiends and I — all having come from Tehran… With an offer the crowd bends over the canvas. Each takes a share, either enough for a small bite or to fill buckets and coats. With the bat of an eyelid, the spread is cleared. All the pears are gone, the ones with marks even.

A short while later the building of Sheikh Lotfollah remains along with the canvas, which the wind takes away.

In September 2003 Jinoos Taghizadeh set up a performance outside the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Esfahan’s Naqsh-e Jahan Square. This was the first in the set of three “offerings” or “pledges” that she intends to perform. The timing of the two other nazr performances is contingent upon the fulfillment of their conditions. According to the customs, one should never speak of the reasons for which the pledge or nazr is done.


“A Performance for a Nazr, A Nazr for a Performance” Photo Gallery

Cafe Konj Performances

Cafe Konj Performances

For seven months, on the seventh day of every month, and twelve hours for every performance, for a whole day which takes place in a cafe. In a secluded and quiet cafe, Konj, which was not the hangout of the artsy (but after these performances it so became), people would go there to meet someone over a cup of coffee.

The First Month

I have a cage on my head, with a smile on my lips in complete silence. Twelve hours. A small tape recorder in front of me which plays the chirping of a small canary. I am selling slips of papers — Hafez divinations. In Tehran, walking to a place, or waiting at the red light, you will see a man or a boy carrying a cage. In the cage is a bird who, upon order, picks a slip on which appears a poem of the great lyrical poet is printed. People pay and the bird picks the augur.

The Second Month

Thousands of books wrapped with color yarn are piled up all over the cafe and colorful balls are scattered on the floor. I am sitting and reading out loud from a book whose every other page is a classic of world literature — Conference of the Birds, Faust and The Little Prince, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Master and Margarita, The Advantages of Vegetarianism (by contemporary writer Sadeq Hedayat) for twelve uninterrupted hours.

The Third Month

Right before the Iranian New Year in spring (Nowruz). As tradition calls, I put a goldfish on every table — large fish in small bowls. One dies in the morning. I start drawing it. I hang the drawing on the wall. The fish appears dead when vertical: unlike humans, who are standing when alive and dead when horizontal. Until nightfall thousands of sketches of the dead fish were on all the walls and the furniture of the café. Sometimes customers would pick up pen and help me with the sketches. Some gave life to their drawings by hanging the fish horizontally.

The Fourth Month

It is during the days of America’s attack on Iraq. Our old wounds have festered and we now commiserate with those who we one day considered our enemy. I start bandaging everything in the café, from the tables and chairs and tableaux and lamps to the cups and customers and their things, the railings and the tree opposite the café…. Everything. We are deeply injured, it appears.

The Fifth Month

With wings made of an iron mesh and cotton threads, I roam around in the café holding a suitcase made ready for a distant journey. An old suitcase with my childhood doll, my musical instrument, my writings, a small vase…. I tell the people of the café that tomorrow I am leaving for heaven, that if they have any messages for loved ones they could send them with me, with an angel with red eyes. The younger people immediately think that I have been granted a visa for the USA. For them heaven and the Yankee World are synonymous. Older ones fear that I may want to commit suicide. The US and death  closely follow on another. Others write to God or their departed ones… or anything heaven may be to them.

The Sixth Month

A plaster model of my hand is on all the tables. I have a white mask, made of my face and over my face, and am sitting across from my plaster hands. I do things, something like an unfamiliar ritual. I speak to café customers through mudras… and they too do the same, a quiet dialog, which makes its own rules as it speaks. Several people where there because their wishes from the previous month had been granted. I was some sort of a witch to them. A woman came and wanted me to cure her ailing child. I had become a Shaman. Long live Joseph Boise!

The Seventh Month

It is the seventh of Mordad (29th of July). My birthday. I have filled the city with ads from a week before, an image of myself, with a Qajari prose, in the garb of a Qajar woman, who would invite everyone to drink Qajari coffee — coffee laced with poison. It was free. The Qajars invited their enemies and give them poisoned coffee, the most hospitable kind of death. In the ad and on that day I warn the crowd not to drink the poisonous coffee on my birthday. That they should drink coffee at their own risk. Those who drank my coffee optimistically become house-bound for at least ten days. The coffee was truly poisoned but not to kill. They could have heeded the warnings and not drank. I was with them for seven months and I gained their trust. I could do anything with that trust, even invite them to their death.


“Cafe Konj Performances” Photo Gallery