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‘Reminders of Home’: UNC Exhibition Celebrates Persian Arts and Local Iranian Community

September 6, 2018
UNC Global Affairs
Textile artwork in a display case

Photo by Ingrid Smith.

September 2018 marks Mina Vakil-Zadeh’s 50th year living in Chapel Hill. Her husband received a master’s in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1959 and remained connected to the area. In 1968, Vakil-Zadeh moved to North Carolina after growing up in Tehran, Iran. Since then, her contributions to the community have been countless.

Most recently, Vakil-Zadeh assisted in the curation and organization of an exhibition at the FedEx Global Education Center, loaning many of her own cultural items to be displayed and shared with the Carolina community. Reminders of Home: Persian Art Connecting Homeland and Diaspora highlights traditional Persian artwork and artifacts, including decorative calligraphy, textiles, metalwork and pottery. On display at the FedEx Global Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through December 8, 2018, the exhibition explores Persian culture through objects of everyday use, delving into the history and cultural significance of traditions central to the lives of Iranian families in North Carolina and Iran. The exhibition features numerous examples of traditional and decorative calligraphy from regions across Iran, reproductions of artwork from the Ackland Art Museum, and contemporary items from members of the Iranian community in North Carolina.

Woman helping set up an art exhibit
Mina Vakil-Zadeh assisted in curating and organizing ‘Reminders of Home.’ (Photo by Martha Hoelzer)

“No one should forget their background, their past,” said Vakil-Zadeh. “It is important to discover pride in where you come from. I have been fortunate to learn from multiple cultures and am excited to share Persian culture with the UNC student community.”

Sepideh Saeedi, board member of the Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina, grew up in Tehran, Iran. She moved to the United States 10 years ago, but makes frequent trips back to Iran to see her family.  Saeedi is a participant in the School of Information and Library Science’s digital data curation certificate program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her interest in sharing her cultural heritage led her to assist in the curation and organization of Reminders of Home, which displays some of her own home textiles, including a handwoven silk carpet. “The carpet is the centerpiece, the most important item in any household,” she said. “That reminds us of home the most, even outside of Iran.”

Saeedi believes that sharing her culture with the wider community is more important now than ever. “Our goal [of the exhibit] is to show how regular [Iranian] people live, how they view their homes and culture,” she said.

The Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina is one of the organizers of the exhibition and has partnered with the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations to organize prior lectures, talks and cultural programs. The organization provides opportunities for the local Iranian community to gather and exemplifies the strength of family ties to Iran.

Carl Ernst, William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religious Studies in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, is particularly excited to see this exhibition come to life. “The Mideast Center is very happy to support this wonderful exhibit of Persian art and culture. Persian studies is an important area of emphasis in our Middle East portfolio, and this rich collection of artifacts provides eloquent examples of the vitality and beauty that can be found in Persian culture. We are deeply grateful to the members of the local Persian community who have supported this program with their time and donations,” said Ernst.

A painting on the wall
Painting by Abbas Katouzian.

A free public reception celebrating the exhibition will take place on September 21, 2018 at 6:30 p.m. in the FedEx Global Education Center. The reception will feature opening remarks by Carl Ernst and Katie Ziglar, director of the Ackland Art Museum. The remarks will be followed by a performance, Folk Music of Iran, directed by Bahram Osqueezadeh, professor in the Department of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium. Mitra Khorsandi will be the featured vocalist. The musical ensemble includes Bahram Dehghani, ney; Siamak Bozorgi, tar bass; Nadia Sabet, percussion; and Bahram Osqueezadeh, santur.

The FedEx Global Education Center, located at 301 Pittsboro Street in Chapel Hill, is open weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and on select Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The exhibition and opening reception are hosted by UNC Global and organized by the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations and Global Relations, in collaboration with the Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina.

Additional support is provided by the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Global Initiatives; Department of Art; Department of Asian Studies and the Persian Studies program; Department of ClassicsDepartment of Music; and the Duke Islamic Studies Center.

Special thanks to the Ackland Art Museum, University Libraries, and the Iranian Cultural Society of North Carolina for loaning or reproducing several pieces from their collections.

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