Public Events

Admission to the ISAW Lecture Hall closes 10 minutes after the scheduled start time.
All lectures are free and open to the public.

Each will have a reception to follow and RSVP is required. RSVP 212.992.7800 or

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Nasseredin Shah and his 84 Wives
Beate Petersen, Film Director and Producer
Film Screening, 6 pm
In 1842 the 11 year-­old heir to the Persian throne received a camera from Queen Victoria of England. The young heir fell in love with the magical contraption. In the following decades he documented his life, revealing to the public eye, what it was never supposed to see. “Nasseredin Shah and his 84 Wives” is based on the photos taken by the Shah himself, as well as by his court. With the addition of animated sequences, it tells the story of the rivalry and intrigues within the harem, the murders, the corruption, the political power struggle, the murders, and of Persia’s troubled relation to Europe. The documentary focuses on an aspect that is all too often overlooked: that is, the influential role played by women in the origins of modern Iran.
This event was made possible by the generous support of the Office for Contemporary Art Norway and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through their support program for professional filmmakers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
The Discursive Spaces of Qajar Photography
Mirjam Brusius, University of Oxford
Public Lecture, 6 pm
When the mid-­19th Century European travellers documented Persia’s heritage with a photographic camera, many compiled albums that came to have ubiquitous aesthetic and political functions. Consequently, in the 20th century, some of the albums ended up in different discursive spaces: some can be found in state archives as diplomatic gifts compiled by the Shah, some became indispensable tools for archaeologists, others were admired by Islamic art curators in museums for their lacquerwork bindings. This lecture explores some of the fascinating biographies of these albums, including the impact they still have today.

Thursday, December 3, 2015
Qajar Photography and Contemporary Iranian Art
Layla S. Diba, Independent Scholar and Art Advisor
Public Lecture, 6 pm

Thursday, December 17, 2015
Ancient Persianisms: Persepolitan Motifs in 19th Century Qajar Persia
Judith A. Lerner, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Public Lecture, 6 pm
Pre-­Islamic imagery—specifically that of the Achaemenid (c. 550-­330 BCE) and Sasanian (224-­651 CE) dynasties—had remained strong in the art of Islamic Iran (post-­651 CE); the major pictorial themes of razm u bazm (fighting and feasting), along with hunting and enthronement, continued through successive Islamic dynasties in painting, metalwork, ceramics and textiles, all artistic media that were prominent in pre-­Islamic Iran. But one medium of the pre-­Islamic period had all but disappeared: monumental relief sculpture carved into living rock. This ancient artistic medium had been dormant for more than a millennium when it was revived under the second Qajar ruler, Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797-­1834). During his reign all but one of the eight known Qajar rock reliefs were carved; after his reign—except for one relief executed in 1878 by his great-­grandson, Naser al-­Din Shah (r. 1848-­1896)—monumental sculptured reliefs were no longer made. Instead, relief carving on a much smaller scale was used for embellishing the stone foundations of Qajar buildings. The stylistic and iconographic contrasts between these two modes of sculptural expression is striking: the earlier Qajar reliefs draw upon those of the Sasanians, the last Persian dynasty before the Muslim conquest, and feature enthronement and hunting scenes, while the later ones quote those of the earlier Achaemenids, specifically images from their capital city, Persepolis. What brought about this change? In this talk I offer some reasons for this shift from Sasanian to Achaemenid imagery and propose that it stemmed, in great part, from the desire in Iran to forge a modern national identity that drew upon Iran’s imperial pre-­Islamic past. Select photographic examples of these reliefs and monuments which provided the inspiration for the Qajar pieces, and which form part of ISAW’s exhibition, Eye of the Shah: Royal Court Photography and the Persian Past, will be discussed in the context of “Persianisms.”