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Fowler Museum at UCLA

Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews

Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews

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From: Fowler Museum at UCLA
Limited Edition: 64
Exhibition: Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews
Material: Printed vinyl
Dimensions: 35" x 96" (88 cm x 243 cm)

Hanging Hardware Included


The Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews exhibition at the Fowler Museum spins the long, complicated, yet rich tale of one of the oldest Jewish communities—dating back nearly 2,700 years. Iranian Jews credit Cyrus the Great, King of Persia (559-530 BCE) with freeing their forbearers from Babylon and Queen Esther, from the Biblical story, with preventing their extermination. In the 7th century, Muslims conquered Persia and in the 16th century strict Shiite Islamic doctrines placed significant restraints on Jews. Without these difficult circumstances though, classical Persian music and poetry may have gone missing, for it were Jews who were permitted to perpetuate the arts.


These banners are offered for sale as a pair. The complete image spans two banners which, hung side-by-side, create an amazing diptych which covers a 6’ by 6’ space. Just place one (1) banner in your shopping cart, and you will receive two so you may display the banners as originally designed.

When the Muslim Savadids rose to power in Iran during the 16th century, Shiite Islamic edicts discriminated against and persecuted all of Iran's religious minorities, even forcing some to convert to Islam. Iranian Jews, considered ritually impure, could no longer practice professions such as banking or working as merchants and traders; they were forced to work as peddlers, jewelry and wine makers, and musicians and entertainers.

Conditions were difficult for Jews but ironically, the Shiite edicts laid the groundwork for the preservation of traditional Persian music and poetry. Muslims were forbidden to compose and perform secular music, but this restriction did not apply to minorities. Jewish musicians, singers, and dancers performed at Muslim and Jewish celebrations, earning a living playing traditional Iranian instruments and thus maintaining Persian traditions.

As "People of the Book", Jews avidly read religious and secular literary material. Poetry was central to Jewish community life and it was integrated into Persian-Jewish epics which were recorded and preserved for hundreds of years in manuscript form.

Among the 100 some objects included in Light and Shadows: The Story of Iranian Jews were traditional instruments like the tār, setār, and santūr, recorded musical compositions, and rare illuminated manuscripts and books. The exhibition also featured archeological artifacts, paintings, Judaica and amulets, and other objects that document the long history of Jews in Iran. While the religious observances practiced by Iranian Jews served to distinguish them as a separate community, they still adopted many aspects of Persian culture. Wedding ceremonies combined Jewish and Persian traditions and Torah scroll finials were decorated with Persian motifs.

Light and Shadows was promoted by a double banner featuring two Persian Jewish women playing a setār. The image comes from a set of intricately painted doors (circa 19th century). The musicians appear on the upper right panel of the doors. Another pair of women appear on the upper left panel and floral designs appear on the two lower panels. Above and below each panel design are "romantic couplets" written in Judeo Persian and are translated:

"And thus it was, when the king got drunk He came to the gate with the key in his hand He opened the gate and stepped into Paradise And saw the beautiful women there He stood like a thirsty man by fresh water Filled with longing as though in a dream The passion he felt for those girls in the garden Sowed the seeds of love in his heart "I will take a paintbrush and pen," so he said, "And paint fetching forms, forms that will speak With faces more ravishing than those of these girls And lovelier curls than the tresses they have" And paint lines and faces if only you will Because a fine painting will last for all time May hope always follow wherever you go."

At the top of the banners are the words "Light and Shadows" in chartreuse on a dark screen over the image of the doors, and below the musicians, "The Story of Iranian Jews" appears in white and Persian letters in chartreuse on a brown screen. The Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation and the Fowler logos are at the bottom of the banner on a dark screen with the exhibition dates "October 21, 2012 – March 10, 2013".


This banner was displayed around the Los Angeles area between October 21, 2012 and March 10, 2013. The exhibition originated at Beit Hatfutsot--Museum of the Jewish People in Israel from December 2010 to May 2011.

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