The Unexpected Presence of Snakes

August 17, 2018

Tags: The Shah of Iran, military coup, Egon Schiele, restitution, Nazi looted art, San Francisco Film Festival

We drove to Woodstock last week for a private screening of Cambiz –Amir Khosravi’s documentary film, “Inheritance.” The drive was long and winding, there was no GPS signal for a while, and I was irritable by the time we arrived. Friends and new friends, cheese, dips, wine, watermelon and a frisky dog, Cooper, awaited us. My mood lifted, more so as I began to understand that the film’s subject—the history of Iran and the role of Cambiz’s father in the autocratic Reza Shah’s regime—has analogies to my own back story. Snakes in the family. What to do about them? Create art, evidemment (French pronunciation, please.)

I, too, had a father I hardly knew whose questionable actions were eventually revealed by me and others. The decision to expose the truth was not hard ; my father had abandoned my mother when she became pregnant with me. But mine was not merely a revenge exploration, nor is Amir-Khosravi’s pilgrimage into Iran’s history and an estranged father he disliked. Much as we might resist, at first, these intimate and, sometimes, shameful stories, the process of shaping them artfully becomes discovery, expiation and, finally, an addendum to the historical record.

Though he was a Holocaust survivor, some of my father’s art collection—mostly Egon Schieles—was purchased from caches of Nazi looted art. For a while I could not believe that he had done this, but then it made perfect sense based on my experience of him as his daughter. Yet, when an art scholar recently asked me about my father’s motivations, I could only hypothesize: he imagined he was rescuing the looted art ; he was obsessed with Schiele’s skill as a draftsman and the pornographic, sadistic imagery; he persuaded himself that the provenance was legitimate; or, alternatively, he was totally ignorant of the art’s provenance; or, as the art accrued in value, he got greedy. And so on.

“Egon Schiele, My Father and Me,” was written after one of my father’s paintings was restituted to the rightful heirs. I was furious at my discoveries and wrote in a frenzy, then calmed down and told the story as accurately as I could. Both my article and Khosravi's film have a similar restraint and intensity.

Amri-Khosravi was living in Teheran with his aunt in 1953—just nine-years-old—when the CIA and British backed a bloody military coup that installed the Shah. Khosravi's father, Reza Gohli Amirkhosrovi, who had worked for the Shah's father as Minister of Finance, joined the inner circle of the new government. These facts, and many more, are undeniable. What Amri-Khosravi has made of them is art.

https://forward.com/culture/214605/egon-schiele-my-father-and-me/

“Inheritance” will be screened at the San Francisco Film Festival on September 23rd:

http://iranianfilmfestival.org/all-date-list/inheritance/


Comments

  1. August 19, 2018 9:51 AM EDT
    Both your story and Cambiz' are painful but look what the two of you have done with them! As a writer, there is something necessary and satisfying to tell the truth, hard as that may be.
    - Lisa Mullenneaux

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