Artist talk: Vali Mahlouji

Artist talk: Vali MahloujiArtist talk: Vali Mahlouji


This lecture will discuss the working methodology of the curatorial think tank Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD) through an examination of two open-ended case studies. 

AOTFD focuses on recovering cultural memory and reclaiming "sites of disappearances"—areas of history that have been erased, destroyed, banned or endangered. The practice concerns itself with histories of nations condemned by social displacement, cultural annihilation or deliberate disappearance. It engages with accounts of culture lost through material destruction, acts of censorship, and other political, economic or human contingencies. This practice enacts processual retracing (historical) and reintegration (now) into cultural memory and discourse, as a performative counteraction of violent, systemic historical erasures. 

What does it mean to inherit aspiration? This presentation attempts an answer, taking the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis as its point of departure. It maps the intersecting intellectual and geopolitical trajectories leading to the inception, consolidation, and demise of this radical, yet virtually forgotten cultural event. As a performance festival held annually in Iran between 1967 and 1977, in and around the city of Shiraz and the ancient ruins of Persepolis, it was declared culturally decadent and un-Islamic by a religious decree and its records removed from public access in 1979. Introducing distant voices from Asia and Africa into the international cultural discourse and juxtaposing them alongside neo-avant-garde expressions in the immediate aftermath of decolonization, the festival allowed for fluid exchanges across geographies, histories, forms, and genres and questioned linear and evolutionist conceptions of culture in ways and on a scale that had never been possible before. Assembling together the festival’s remaining and side-lined material, the paper conjures the euphoric, utopian impulses and historical tensions that marked the cross-cultural histories of art and anti-colonial struggle in the 1960s and 1970s.

 What does it mean to inherit traumas? The paper draws upon investigations into the bloody history of the red-light district of Tehran, called Shahr-e No. The district was a vibrant, but squalid, urban neighborhood which was formed in the early part of the last century. It was violently burnt to the ground in 1979 only a few days before the arrival of the Islamist leader to Tehran, and subsequently bulldozed flat and erased from sight. This year, 2019, marks the fortieth anniversary of that event.


Vali Mahlouji is a London-based curator, founder of Archaeology of the Final Decade, advisor to the British Museum, the Bahman Mohassess Estate and director of Kaveh Golestan Estate. Mahlouji’s recent curatorial work includes exhibitions at Dhaka Art Summit 2018, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Whitechapel Gallery, Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam, Bergen Triennial, Photo London, Prince Claus Fund, Singapore International Festival of Arts, Art Dubai Modern and Open Eye Gallery. Upcoming exhibitions will be at de la Warr Pavilion; Sursock Museum, SAVVY Contemporary and Asia Art Centre, Gwangju in 2019.

Mahlouji has been published by various institutions, including: Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Guggenheim Museum, New York; Asia Society Museum New York and Yale University Press; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens; Sharjah Biennial; London Middle East Institute, University of London; City University New York; Photo London and The Abraaj Group Art Prize, Dubai.

Recent talks and lectures by Vali Mahlouji have taken place at Stanford University; Kulturforum, Berlin; Aalto University; Yale University; Goldsmiths University; City & Guilds School of Art; Bergen Assembly; Asia Society, New York; Iran Heritage Foundation; Whitechapel Gallery; British Film Institute; and Art Dubai, among others.

His upcoming titles Prostitute 1975-77 and Perspectives on the Festival of Arts, Shiraz Persepolis are due in 2019.


Free admission with advance registration.

The talk will be delivered in English with simultaneous translation into Russian.