A production of Henrik Ibsen's classic play "Hedda Gabler" has been suspended by Iranian authorities following protests by hard-liners who have described it as vulgar, immoral, and contrary to Islamic principles. They claim the play promotes nihilism, hedonism, and polygamy.
The move comes as reports emerge that a newly created entity will police cultural and media affairs in the country, possibly signaling division among conservatives already eager to reign in what they regard as unacceptable artistic expression.
Ibsen's play deals with issues of womanhood, interpersonal relationships, and societal restrictions, among other themes.
Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said in a January 12 interview
with the semiofficial Fars news agency that the play presented "some problems," both due to its content and also because of the the way it was performed.
Dolatabadi said the play's director and others involved have been summoned to court to offer an explanation.
Reza Sedigh, a Tehran-based journalist who covers arts and culture, told Radio Farda's Babak Ghafouri that the play, which had been running at Tehran's city theater since January 5, had been well-received by the audience. He said most of the "attacks and maneuvering" came after hard-line websites including Fars and Rajanews posted pictures of the play. He said hard-liners seem to be upset especially over the interaction between the actors and their thick makeup.
You can judge for yourself here
Iranian Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini is quoted by the semiofficial Mehr
news agency as saying that there is no moral issue with the play and that "there has been exaggeration."
Yet Fatemeh Rahbar, a member of the parliament's cultural commission, has said that the parliament would definitely push Hosseini
to offer an explanation about the controversial play.
"Officials from the Culture Ministry have to announce the reason why it was performed at the city theater and also the reasons behind its suspension to satisfy the public," Rahbar said.
Journalist Sedigh said he believes the controversy over the play is related to divisions within the conservative camp.
"Some of the conservatives are critical of the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the cultural field and they believe, in their perspective, that the government is being liberal in its [cultural policies]. They believe [Ahmadinejad's aide Esfandiari] Mashaei is behind it."
Mashaei has been criticized by conservatives over his promotion of religious nationalism and also for expressing support for arts.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the parliament's Article 90 Committee will launch an investigation into Mashaei's comments and stances over a number of issues.
In another sign of division among conservatives, Tehran's prosecutor announced the creation of a new body to control and police cultural and media affairs. Dolatabadi said the new entity, which is due to start its work in the near future, will defend the rights of artists and media workers and also work for the growth of art in the country.
The move appears to be aimed at weakening the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which is in charge of supervising and regulating cultural and media affairs.
-- Golnaz Esfandiari