"Three young women offer berries to visitors to their izba, a traditional wooden house, in a rural area along the Sheksna River, near the town of Kirillov."
(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)
[The photograph was created by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in 1909 as part of his survey of the Russian Empire. The image was created using an early 3-colour technique and was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II.]
"[Mikhail] Bakhtin's concept of carnival as a subversive, disruptive world-upside-down event in which the repressive views, lies, and hypocrisy of the officially run and dominated everyday world are unmasked provides a powerful theoretical concept for any study of Iranian popular theatrical and related musical forms. Bakhtin was concerned with polyvocality and the fact that from the onset of the European Renaissance the voices of the common people were increasingly not heard. The Islamic Republic's ban on the performance of improvisational comic theater would seem to support this theoretical stance with empirical evidence of official reaction. In the European context analyzed by Bakhtin, a writer, exemplified by Rabelais, enacts an important role because he or she reflects the voices of the low, the peasant, the outcast. In Bakhtin's view, the healthy voice of the low, which questions the high-the church and the state-is an important check on oppressive officials in a healthy society.
A full-fledged carnival—such as those in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans—does not exist in the Iranian culture sphere. By carnival I mean a massive demonstration of excessive eating, drinking, and sexual and bodily exposure, popularly associated with Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, that does not occur within an Islamic/Iranian context. Threads and themes of carnivalesque and grotesque subversion, however, can be found woven through the fabric of the Iranian world. Here the needle that pricks the official religious, social, and political powers most is the traditional comic theater in its many guises.
In many ways siyah-bazi and ru-howzi embody Bakhtin's notions of the grotesque and the carnivalesque. Gholam-siyah, the blackface clown, the 'low Other,' always wins over his master: the world upside down. Gholam-siyah's extravagant clothing, movements, speech, and lower-class language demonstrate Bakhtin's dictum, 'the grotesque...cannot be separated from folk humor and carnival spirit' (Stallybrass and White 1986, 43). Gholam's bright red costume and conical hat, for example, are probably the closest thing to carnival costume in the entire Middle East. William O. Beeman, a scholar of Iranian linguistics, discusses the blackface clown: 'The clown distorts normal physical movement by jumping, running, flailing his arms, and twisting his body into odd shapes' (1981, 515). This is, of course, part of his repertoire, for sight gags make up much of the comedy of traditional comic theater. This grotesque twisting of the body is also part of the dancing that occurs in the comic theater, especially by the male characters."
"'The Gleaners and I' is a decidedly personal video documentary by Varda, a film ostensibly preoccupied with 'rubbish'. Varda takes us on a journey where we encounter those who live from other peoples' - from people who eat out of dumpsters and 'glean' provincial fields after harvest, to those who make art from tossed away furniture and beyond. It's a brilliant and playful film and one which Julie Rigg decared she was 'in love with' when she interviewed Agnes Varda.
JULIE RIGG: Agnes Varda, I'm curious about this film. Did it begin as a film about yourself or a film about gleaners?
AGNES VARDA: It's clearly about gleaners, it's clearly not only the intention because who cares about an intention, what is important is the film you see. And not only that, it's a very important subject, a social issue, which is, 'who are those people who eat the leftovers, the leftovers of others?' Who is eating my leftovers, you know? And that was really concerning me, like it does to other people, and I thought instead of having a subject, a subject line and say could we find people to illustrate it? I totally had another attitude and thought how can I meet people who are the subject? So I don't have to explain and make any narration about that, find the right people who will be able to show themselves by their life. [With this film] I was saying 'why will those people live and eat what we throw away, and can I meet them, can I speak to them?' And they are able to say when and what and how."
(Julie Rigg, ABC Australia)
Fig.1 Agnès Varda, 2000. Les Glaneurs et La Glaneuse
Fig.2 Jean François Millet, 1857. Musée d'Orsay