Dhaka Art Summit

A Utopian Stage


CURATEd BY Vali Mahlouji


The Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis was an arts and performance festival held in Iran every summer between 1967-77, in and around the city of Shiraz and the ancient ruins of Persepolis. Taking place during a time of radical shifts in global narratives and power dynamics – at the height of the Cold War, and in the wake of rapid decolonisation – the festival facilitated a unique and transformative crucible of artistic possibility: simultaneously apart from, and in response to, its time.
The festival introduced artists and expressions from the Global South into international cultural discourse on an unprecedented scale, radically dismantling the dominant hierarchies. After Iran, the most highly represented region was South Asia, re-invigorating strong but dormant cultural ties with countries like India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan which has been severed through colonial rule. In the immediate aftermath of decolonisation, Shiraz-Persepolis would shift the cultural centre of gravity towards the re-emerging ‘other’ – consciously attempting to bypass the hierarchies and conventions of the European cultural terrain.

Domestically, the festival also opened up a transgressively liberal space within a politically restrictive Iran, after the CIA-organised coup d’état of 1953. In 1977, the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis was declared decadent by religious decree, and since the Iranian revolution of 1979, materials associated with the festival have been removed from public access: the materials in this exhibited during DAS 2018 remaining officially banned in Iran.

A Utopian Stage unearthed archival materials, audio recordings and film footage to articulate and appraise the implications of this decade-long episode in the 20th century’s artistic narrative. In doing so, this exhibition shed light on the aspirations and contradictions of a contentious historical moment, and addressed the notion of a collective, hyper-modernist, arena of experimentation that remains a high watermark of modernist ambition.

thrust open the heavens and start anew - Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis Excavated Archives

Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD) has unearthed archival materials, audio recordings and film footage, which documents the revolutionary spirit of the Festival, and was displayed for the first time in Asia during the Dhaka Art Summit 2018. AOTFD considers the Festival’s landscape to be one of the most revolutionary multi-disciplinary artistic crucibles of any commissioning platform witnessed around the world - its cultural perspectives being one of the major unresolved artistic enigmas of late modernism. A Utopian Stage revealed a kaleidoscopic range of performances in music, drama and dance presented and commissioned by the Festival, with a focus on Asian and African contributions, alongside the significant presence of the international avant-garde. Through these materials, A Utopian Stage aimed to articulate and appraise the implications of this decade-long episode in the 20th century’s artistic narrative, addressing the notion of a universalist arena of modernist aspiration and experimentation.

below the levels where differences appear - Performance Programme

The first iteration of an ongoing transnationally roving amphitheatre, as part of A Utopian Stage, artists, performers and filmmakers were inclusively incorporated within a collective arena of experimentation echoing the progressive pitch of the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis (1967-77), and the highs and lows of universalist utopian ideals. Amidst resurgent forces of cultural and political reactionism around the world, below the levels… proclaimed a radical site of collective exchange.

During the Dhaka Art Summit 2018, below the levels… drew upon the music, theatre, dance and politics that informed the utopian aspirations and contradictions of the original festival, with contributions by Hassan Khan, Goshka Macuga with Vali Mahlouji, Silas Riener (Merce Cunningham Trust), Reetu Sattar, Yasmin Jahan Nupur with Santal performers and Lalon Baul singers.

to be free is to lose sight of the shore - Film Programme

Throughout DAS 2018, Archaeology of the Final Decade curated an eclectic selection of films, which echoed and reflected the themes at the heart of A Utopian Stage, both aesthetically and politically, from the revolutionary to the existential. The programme conflated artist and feature films, video documentations of live performances and historical documentaries to realise an ambivalent, universal stage where impulses could flourish.

Invited artists and filmmakers included Reza Abdoh, Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, Ashish Avikunthak, Shezad Dawood, Rose English, Rose Finn-Kelcey, William Greaves, Isaac Julien, Mikhail Kalatozov, Lindsay Kemp, William Klein, Lala Rukh, Goshka Macuga, Simon Moretti, Sergei Parajanov, Gillo Pontecorvo, Ousmane Sembène, Shuji Terayama, and Stan VanDerBeek, among others.

beyond the bounds on the other side - A Timeline

In Zone 1 of A Utopian Stage, a fragmented history of the 20th century was conjured through the ambitions and contradictions of countless utopian universalist episodes and ideals: transcendental internationalisms, radical liberations, emancipating solidarities.

By the middle of the last century, the demise of the old European empires revealed a new horizon of opportunities and encounters for people and cultures across the world. This timeline served as an evocation of the constantly evolving dreams and possibilities that emerged and dissolved during the period.


thrust open the heavens and start anew: Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis - Excavated Archives
Abbas Nalbandian
Abbey Lincoln
Alla Rakha
Andre Gregory
Andrei Serban
Arby Ovanessian
Aziz Mian
Bijan Mofid
Bismillah Khan
Bruno Maderna
Dariush Mehrjui
David Tudor
Debabrata Chaudhuri
Faramarz Payvar
Farrokh Ghaffari
Geoffrey Reeves
Gordon Mumma
Hariprasad Chaurasia
Iannis Xenakis
Ingmar Bergman
Jerzy Grotowski
John Cage
Joseph Chaikin
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Khojasteh Kia
Lakshmi Shankar
Mahin Jahanbegloo-Tajadod
Marguerite Duras
Maurice Béjart
Max Roach
Merce Cunningham
Mohammad Reza Shajarian
Mohammad Reza Lotfi
Mungara Yamini Krishnamurti
Munir Bashir
Munir Sarhadi
Nelliyode Vasudevan Namboodiri
Núria Espert
Parviz Kimiavi
Peter Brook
Peter Schumann
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Ram Narayan
Ravi Shankar
Reza Ghotbi
Robert Serumaga
Roshan Ara Begum
Sakhawat Hussain
Sardono Kusumo
Satyajit Ray
Shanta Rao
Tadeusz Kantor
Ted Hughes
Uma Sharma
Vasu Pisharody
Vilayat Khan
Vinayak Vora
Yasujiro Ozu
Yehudi Menuhin

to be free is to loose sight of the shore:  Film Programme
Ashish Avikunthak
Gillo Pontecorvo
Goshka Macuga
Lala Rukh
Larry Achiampong and David Blandy
Lindsay Kemp
Mikhail Kalatozov
Ousmane Sembène
Reza Abdoh
Robert Wilson
Rose English
Rose Finn-Kelcey
Sergei Paradjanov
Shezad Dawood
Shuji Terayama
Simon Moretti
Stan VanDerBeek
William Greaves
William Klein

below the levels where differences appear: Performance Programme
Goshka Macuga and Vali Mahlouji
Hassan Khan
Lalon Baul Singers
Reetu Sattar
Silas Riener
Yasmin Jahan Nupur and Santal Performers

About Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD)

A Utopian Stage is a project of Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD), a curatorial platform founded by Vali Mahlouji in 2010. AOTFD seeks to challenge and confront fixed histories through a radical re-contextualisation of cultural and artistic materials that have remained obscure, endangered, banned or in some instances destroyed.  The platform’s work brings international attention to cultural artefacts which have been neglected due to historical circumstances, and encourages the reintegration of these materials into cultural memory. AOTFD’s materials have so far been acquired by Tate Modern, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Smithsonian Institute and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).