BMR SOUTH ASIA #4
Image credit: Dan Bodan
“I was supposed to stay longer, but I was told by the German Embassy before I went to extend my visa that I shouldn’t bother because they’d spoken to “someone who would know” and they almost definitely weren’t going to extend my stay.” Bleak words from Dan Bodan, a Berlin-based artist who spent 30 days in Tehran, Iran at the tail-end of last year as part of the Border Movement Residency South Asia program.
Having applied for it on a whim, Bodan was excited about the prospect of spending a few months in a country that was close to his heart – he had studied modern Iranian history and cinema in university. Having always had a strong desire to visit the country, Bodan wasn’t aware of the bureaucratic implications that came alongside it: “I didn’t know when I applied that were restrictions on Canadians visiting.” he told me over email after he was back in Berlin.
There was an element of uncertainty that hung above Bodan during his time there; a fact that he deemed “pretty annoying” as it took him over 6 months to get the visa: “When I was there, not knowing what the timeline of my stay meant that I didn’t really get to start any projects and spent everyday frantically trying to consume as much culture as I could before I was sent back,” he explained.
While he managed to perform once at new media festival TADAEX (similar to Mutek or CTM), Bodan didn’t “go to Iran to research the art or music scene,” he explained. “I personally don’t get that much from travelling if I’m surrounded by other artists, I don’t really have strong opinions about “art” per se. Or maybe a better way to say I don’t really get inspired by “art”. I prefer meeting people who are doing the opposite of whatever I’m doing. And luckily the population of Tehran was very open with me and I felt I got a lot from the strangers I met.”
Image credits: Dan Bodan
Bodan’s primary interest during his visit was to explore whether “there’s a huge difference in the day-to-day of people’s lives in a theocratic society vs a ‘secular’ one,” which meant that Bodan was forced out of the house every day in his quest. While Bodan’s insight may have been short-lived due to the inevitable exit, it was however deemed fruitful, evidenced by his interaction with the locals of Tehran. He found that they were very curious about western visitors. Considering the difficulties most face when wanting to enter the country, he explained that “people can be extremely friendly. And love to ask questions, they especially want to know what you think of Iran.” He found that it was “refreshing to be somewhere everyone didn’t look and act the same,” this outlook, coupled with his knowledge of the country through university, along with having a lot of Iranian friends (who were either born there or were children of refugees), allowed his insight into the country to be distinctive.
He had an understanding of the queer community in the city before he even got to Tehran. “virtually all the Iranian guys I know are gay/queer, and plenty of other people I talked to who’ve already visited let me know about the ‘underground’ gay party circuit in Tehran,” he acknowledged. But what he found was a community based on wealth in a city whose inequality is extreme. Despite going in with the knowledge of the community, Bodan still found that “you’re only getting a very limited narrative on queer identity and it’s always going to be tied to wealth and privilege.”
Image credit: Dan Bodan
He did manage to break out of this cycle towards the end of his trip and met up with some people via Grindr who were from working-class backgrounds and were ethnic minorities (Kurdish and Turkic). “We got to spend a few hours talking,” Bodan recalled. “And I had the chance to hear about their lives and their realities, which was enlightening, to say the least. They both identified as queer and were outwardly very “femme” which struck me as extraordinary in a society that is extremely macho (and ostensibly homophobic, it is of course illegal).”
The question that remained with Bodan after he left Tehran was how do we get stories of these individuals out there… “how do those voices become part of the conversation? And it’s important they get to speak for themselves. The minority in the minority in the minority etc. One really wanted to become a filmmaker and make queer films in Iran which was kind of mind-blowing (if unrealistic at this point.)”
He left Tehran with his only regret being that he didn’t meet the two individuals earlier or spend more time with them.
Written by: Dhruva Balram