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The Privilege of Giving

Atherton philanthropist supports range of causes not only with funding, but with time, effort and intensity of purpose. Please click on link below to read the full article ...

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The Shah Abbas exhibit at the British Museum

Unique Zan Foundation is proud to announce our contribution to The Shah Abbas Exhibit at the British Museum. Please read below for more information ...

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Venice Biennale 2009: from Iran, Pakistan and Peckham

While the imposing national pavilions of the Giardini and the flashy group exhibition in the vast halls of the Arsenale may hog the headlines at the Venice Biennale, some of the most refreshing art of the festival happens beyond their hallowed walls. Every two years, countries without pavilions ...

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Unique Women in the News

Simin Behbahani, Poet

Iranian poet Simin Behbahani is the first recipient of Stanford's Bita Prize for Literature and Freedom. The new $10,000 prize is part of the Daryabari Persian Studies Fund, recently endowed by Bita Daryabari to support and promote teaching, research and scholarship relating to Iran ...

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Bita Daryabari, Philanthropist

Iranian American philanthropist Bita Daryabari, founder of the Unique Zan Foundation in Menlo Park, bestowed $2.5 million to Stanford University ...

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Shah AbbasIn association with The Iran Heritage Foundation

19 February - 14 June 2009
Reading Room
Admission charge

In February 2009, the British Museum will open the first major exhibition to explore the rule and legacy of Shah 'Abbas, one of the formative figures in the creation of modern Iran. Shah of Iran from 1587 - 1629 AD, he is remembered as one of the country's most influential kings and a great military leader, ruling Iran at a time of political renewal, when it succeeded in positioning itself as a world power with a sharply defined national identity.

Shah 'Abbas came to the throne in 1587, the fifth ruler of the Safavid Dynasty. Through trade, patronage and diplomacy Shah 'Abbas fostered good relations with Europe and ushered in a golden period in the arts, commissioning beautiful works of art and grand architecture. He was a great builder and restorer of major monuments across the country and this architectural legacy will provide the context in which to explore the themes of his reign. The exhibition will feature luxurious gold-ground carpets, exquisite Chinese porcelains, illustrated manuscripts, watercolour paintings, metalwork and beautiful silks, objects similar to those Shah 'Abbas gave to important religious sites across Iran. The famous calligrapher Ali Riza 'Abbasi was a key figure throughout Shah 'Abbas's reign and examples of his work will feature prominently in the exhibition.

Shah Abbas

In association with The Iran Heritage Foundation, the exhibition will feature extraordinary loans, never before seen outside of Iran, alongside loans from Europe and the US. The exhibition is the third in a series examining empire and power in different parts of the globe and follows exhibitions on the First Emperor of China and the Roman emperor Hadrian.

"Shah 'Abbas was restless, decisive, ruthless and intelligent. This exhibition will provide a rare opportunity to learn about this important ruler. Shah 'Abbas was a critical figure in the development of Iran and his legacy is still with us today."

- Sheila Canby, curator of the exhibition

To book tickets phone +44 (0)20 7323 8181 or book online.

For further information or images please contact Hannah Boulton on 020 7323 8522/ hboulton@britishmuseum.org  

© Copyright www.BritishMuseum.org 2009

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Venice ConferenceVenice Biennale 2009: from Iran, Pakistan and Peckham

By Serena Davies

Venice Biennale’s most refreshing art comes from some unlikely places.

While the imposing national pavilions of the Giardini and the flashy group exhibition in the vast halls of the Arsenale may hog the headlines at the Venice Biennale, some of the most refreshing art of the festival happens beyond their hallowed walls. Every two years, countries without pavilions invade Venetian palazzi, or overrun their gardens. This year, the New Zealand contingent will perform a traditional Maori haka in St Mark’s Square. And, two areas more usually vilified in news stories than glowing in the Venetian limelight will also, for the first time, be getting a look in. Both shows are being staged by young British curators.

Ex-Tate curator Jemima Montagu has spent the last three years working in Afghanistan for the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a charity supported by the Prince of Wales to help preserve the historic centre of Kabul. "I don’t think many curators have had to take out war and terrorism insurance cover," she reflects on the experience. But it has also given her a far more sympathetic attitude than some to the countries in what George W Bush dubbed "the axis of evil".

Montagu’s show, East-West Divan, represents 10 artists from Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and highlights the cross-fertilisation between Islamic and Western aesthetics that you can see all around Venice, thanks to its past pre-eminence as a port.

It will display giant Iranian pop-art portraits in the neoclassical arches of a 16th-century scuola. "They will be like everyday saints, as opposed to those by Titian and Tintoretto elsewhere in the city," Montagu says.

There will also be work by the Afghan artist, Khadim Ali. He has done a series of sinister pictures of Rustam, a mythical hero whose image for Ali was tarnished when he heard Taliban fighters, whom he loathes, praising him.

Disappointingly, Montagu says it was hard to fund the exhibition (Turquoise Mountain and Bita Daryabari, a US-based Iranian philanthropist, stepped in). "It seems such an obvious one to support because it has a humanitarian angle – these are artists coming from developing countries – and a positive message about places with such a negative image internationally," she says. She’d had no problem funding shows in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "But it was much harder here. It is so sad confronting the horrible old [Western] art world again. People are so wary of your being cool enough."

Someone also with little truck for the traditional mores of the art world is Hannah Barry, 25, who has set up a gallery space – part of which consists of a four-storey car park – in Peckham, an area of London hitherto better known for its knife crime than fine art. She’s doing so well with the gallery that she can afford a Peckham Pavilion at the Biennale.

"I want to test out the art," she explains, of her decision to bring work by 20 artists to Italy. "Will it stand the test of time? Does it hold its own internationally? I’m bringing art that represents what each of the artists do, but if there’s anything tying them together it’s that sense of light and shade that you get in Venice."

Among her exhibitors is 22-year-old James Capper who has done an industrial-looking "pontoon sculpture" to float on the canal-side of the palazzo. Capper talks about his work in themes; this he describes as the first in a "marine division".

He's hoping it’s original – "I don’t know too much art that’s sea worthy."

Other art in the show will include paintings by Christopher Green, as well as an accompanying website, www.peckhampavilion.com, which is an artwork itself.

Barry found most of her artists in a decrepit Peckham house. The residents have the landlord’s permission to stay but outsiders would be forgiven for mistaking the place for a squat. That these artists’ work is now squatting in a glass-fronted Venetian palazzo on the main thoroughfare between the Giardini and the Arsenale is an impressive testament to Barry’s belief in her portfolio – and the Biennale’s remarkable pulling power.

East-West Divan, La Scuola Grande della Misericordia, Fondamenta della Misericordia 3519; 7 June–4 October; enquiries +39 346 627 8732

The Peckham Pavilion, Castello 1829 (eastern end of Via Garibaldi); until 10 June; enquiries +44 (0) 7850 639 570

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2009

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Simin Behbahani, Poet

Iranian poet Simin Behbahani is the first recipient of Stanford's Bita Prize for Literature and Freedom. The new $10,000 prize is part of the Daryabari Persian Studies Fund, recently endowed by Bita Daryabari to support and promote teaching, research and scholarship relating to Iran, including the area formerly known as Persia, and people of Iranian or Persian heritage.

The award ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, in Cubberley Auditorium. The ceremony will include a talk by Behbahani titled "Iran Today: A Poet's Vision."

Behbahani is one of the most prominent figures of modern Persian literature and one of the most outstanding among contemporary Persian poets, as well as a leading dissident. She is Iran's national poet and an icon of the Iranian intelligentsia and literati, who affectionately refer to her as the "lioness of Iran." Her poems are quoted like aphorisms and proverbs.

She has expanded the range of the traditional Persian verse forms and has produced some of the most significant works of Persian literature of the 20th century. While many poets of her time embraced free verse, Behbahani's signature writing focused on the traditional ghazal form and took it to new lyrical heights—with a modern twist in perspective and voice. For example, while the form traditionally is a male poet courting a woman, in Behbahani's verse the man is the object.

She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1997. She also was awarded a Human Rights Watch-Hellman/Hammett grant in 1998 and, in 1999, the Carl von Ossietzky Medal for her struggle for freedom of expression in Iran.

Behbahani said: "I have put my poems forward for everyone to see. What can they be from the year 1979 onward? We wrote our books not with ink but with blood. No doubt, the same is true about the works of every other poet."

As she has written in one of her poems: "To stay alive, you must slay silence … / to pay homage to being, you must sing."

Behbahani was selected for the honor by Stanford's Program in Iranian Studies in consultation with leading members of the Iranian American community.

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Bita Daryabari, Philanthropist

Iranian American philanthropist Bita Daryabari, founder of the Unique Zan Foundation in Menlo Park, bestowed $2.5 million to Stanford University for the Bita Daryabari Endowment for Persian Studies, under the auspices of the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Iranian Studies program. An annual Bita Prize will be awarded to an Iranian artist who achieves notable excellence in the field. Friends and Stanford officials celebrated at a dinner.

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