Meem Gallery presents the exhibition “A Utopian Stage,” curated by Vali Mahlouji. This comprehensive project comprises two parts: “A Utopian Stage” and “A Cultural Atlas,” with the latter set to be showcased at Meem Gallery in May 2024, also curated by Vali Mahlouji.
“A Utopian Stage” made its debut at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2015, followed by exhibitions at MAXXI Museo Nazionale Delle Arti del XXI Secolo in Rome in 2014-2015, The Whitechapel Gallery in 2015, Bergen Assembly in 2016, The Dhaka Art Summit in 2018, SAVVY Contemporary: The Laboratory of Form/Ideas in 2019, and Asia Culture Centre Gwangju in 2020.
“A Cultural Atlas” was first presented at The Dhaka Art Summit in 2018, followed by exhibitions at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow in 2019 and SAVVY Contemporary: The Laboratory of Form/Ideas in 2019, with a presentation in Gwangju in 2020.
“A Utopian Stage” is a multifaceted and ongoing project that revisits the intersection of modernism, art, and revolution by examining the radical aspirations of hyper-modernist networks of artists and experimentalists from the 1960s and 1970s. It delves into the “third worldist” sensibilities of the immediate post-colonial era, tracing a Cultural Atlas where knowledge was exchanged across alternative, often non-European, plateaus. This global “reorientation” challenges the traditional West-to-East perspective, engaging in cyclical models of cultural, philosophical, and political negotiations among various regions.
The project explores how, after the decline of European hegemony and the rise of the Global South, a fluid artistic exchange became possible across geographies, histories, and forms on an unprecedented scale. It examines the ideals and complexities of 20th-century modernist universalisms from the viewpoint of the emerging Global South and their collaborations with the international avant-garde.
“A Utopian Stage” focuses on the decade-long Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis (1967-1977) as a pivotal case study. This festival, whose archives have been restricted in Iran since 1979, is considered a profoundly transformative intercultural experience and one of the most radical multidisciplinary crucibles in the history of commissioning festivals.
Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD) embarks on a remarkable mission, delving into the archives of the Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis (1967-1977), a radical and often-overlooked decade-long event. AOTFD’s “A Utopian Stage” exhibition, occurring over half a century later, seeks to unravel the festival’s historical significance and its resonance in the context of modernism’s progressive journey.
This festival, with its fervent drive to envision a world of open universal exchange, celebrated the dawn of the post-colonial era. It aspired to cultivate new solidarities and connections, emblematic of the emergence of a potential new global order.
“A Utopian Stage” places the festival within the broader landscape of concurrent political events, including the Non-Aligned Movement and Pan-Africanism. It was a dynamic arena where diverse solidarities and visions of an interconnected world converged and clashed. Importantly, the festival served as a meeting ground for international and local avant-gardes.
What distinguishes the festival is its rejection of a superficial fusion of cultures, emphasising instead the principles of particularism, cultural diversity, and alterity. These qualities remain relevant today, highlighting the festival’s enduring significance as a historical artifact and a testament to the utopian impulses that shaped cross-cultural art and anti-colonial movements in the 1960s and 1970s.
The festival faced opposition, moral accusations, and attacks in 1977, leading to its ban in Iran in 1979. Many artists involved were barred from their craft, and the festival’s archives suffered destruction and censorship. AOTFD’s meticulous recovery of these archives aims to challenge those accusations, revealing a seminal modernist event aligned with ideals of progress, openness, emancipation, inclusivity, and the overarching concept of unity within diversity.
About Vali Mahlouji
Vali Mahlouji is a prominent art curator and founder of the non-profit initiative Archaeology of the Final Decade (AOTFD). He also serves as an advisor to the British Museum and oversees the Kaveh Golestan Estate. Mahlouji’s involvement extends to being a member of the Art Dubai Modern Advisory Committee and a board member of the Bahman Mohassess Estate.
Established in 2010, AOTFD is a non-profit curatorial platform dedicated to resurrecting obscured histories. It diligently unearths and reintroduces artists, artworks, and cultural narratives that have faced obscurity, censorship, loss, bans, threats, or deliberate destruction.
Through AOTFD, Mahlouji collaborates with renowned international and public art institutions, including Tate Modern, The British Museum, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Smithsonian Institute, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
Dates: 04 October – 04 November 2023
Location: Meem Gallery, Dubai