Joint Israeli-Iranian jewelry exhibit in Geneva
MEHRA RIMERTensions between Iran and Israel have been making the news for several months. But while politics have often proved intractable, cultural efforts have shown that individual Iranians and Israelis share common ground. For instance, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, titled “Iran and Israel Can Agree on This: Rita Jahanforuz Totally Rocks: The Jewish Star remakes Persian Oldies in Tel Aviv and her Fans in Tehran Can’t Get Enough” Iranians and Israelis both connect with this top singer in Israel, who recently released an album entirely in Farsi.
For some people, creating bridges between divided worlds is second nature. Emmanuelle Hazan, journalist, editor and the owner of a jewelry store in Geneva, is one of them.
Recently, she held an exhibition in Geneva, uniting the creations of Israeli jewelry designers Einat Agassi and Tamar with those of Iranian designer Nazanine – an unusual combination given the current tensions between the designers’ countries.
The Iranian and the Israeli designers had never met. In fact, they would never have had the opportunity to get to know each other if it weren’t for this initiative to unite their creations.
They were surprised by how much they had in common as designers; both blended different styles and reused old materials in their jewelry.
The day following the opening, I had the opportunity to meet with Agassi and Nazanine. I asked them about their reactions to the event and the fact that they were sharing the spotlight.
According to Einat, Iranians and Israelis undeniably have a lot in common. “There is a whole body of language that we share,” says Einat. She also added that when she meets people, she is interested in their personalities, rather than their religion or nationality. “People themselves are what count, what they radiate, what they have to tell me,” she says. In other words, focusing on people as individuals can help us see that differences in religion and nationality need not be sources of division.
Some may be unaware that Iran has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. In fact, Cyrus the Great, Persia’s first emperor, figures in the Old Testament as the liberator of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity.
In her creations, Einat uses ornamentation engraved with Muslim and Jewish prayers or blessings. For her, these are traces of civilization, representing the physical history of the Middle East. “Each of my pieces tells a story,” she says.
Nazanine, like Einat, gets her inspiration from the past. “I like using 2,000-year-old pieces of bronze to make my jewelry. Their transformation is like recycling.”
When I asked Einat if she feared that the religious nature of some of her pieces could decrease her sales, she answered: “You would be surprised by how many Jews or Israelis enjoy the mixture of cultures my creations convey.”
According to her, artists can overcome religious and cultural barriers relatively easily, because they can draw on history and remind their customers how that history is connected to them. In their jewelry, shared history prevails over current geo-political relationships.
Nazanine shares Einat’s vision. I was struck by the similarities between the two women when Nazanine explained that, through her jewelry, she sought to engage in dialogue with the person looking at them. She wanted to share the origin and the history of each element constituting the object.
In a cosmopolitan city like Geneva, where Iranians live alongside a large Jewish community which includes Israeli expats, it was interesting to see how these two communities interacted. Einat’s comment says it all: “When I met Nazanine, she seemed very nice to me, as did all the Iranian customers whom I came across that night … they are not very different from my Israeli customers.”
All too often, it seems that stereotypes and misunderstanding define Israeli-Iranian relations. But examples like these, which highlight shared history and culture, offer some hope of focusing on common ground.
Mehra Rimer is a Geneva-based translator born in Iran. This article originally appeared on the Common Ground News Service.