The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery will present its seventh annual “Nowruz: A Persian New Year Celebration” free family festival Saturday, March 7, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Throughout the day, visitors of all ages can learn, play and feast at a celebration encompassing both museums to mark Nowruz, the beginning of the new year of 1394 in Iran, Afghanistan and many other countries, coinciding with the first day of spring.
At 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., visitors can relive the Iranian music scene of the 1960s and 1970s with updated versions of classic songs made famous by the likes of Googoosh, Hayedeh, Pari Zangeneh and Parva, along with mesmerizing bandari-beat tunes by Zia Atabi. The band Mitra Sumara, based in New York, features Iranian American vocalist Yvette Perez (pictured below), and re-energizes Persian pop with influences ranging from salsa and disco to Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and Middle Eastern rhythms.Visitors will be able to hear storyteller Xanthe Gresham weave tales from Persian literary classics, learn about the Freer and Sackler’s rich collection of 19th-century Persian photographs, discover the meaning of colorful “Haft Sin” table displays and then make their own, watch a master calligrapher at work and dress up in traditional costumes for photos recreating a Persian painting. Other activities include “fire” jumping for good luck in the new year, backgammon and chess matches, face painting and a hands-on workshop in the ImaginAsiaclassroom for families to make crowns and shields inspired by the Shahnama (Book of kings). Docents will elaborate on important works in the exhibitions “Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy” and “Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran” to offer glimpses of Iran’s rich artistic traditions.
Persian literature enthusiasts can enjoy book-signing sessions at the Sackler store for Two Parrots–a children’s book adapted from the poet Rumi’s celebrated work–signed by illustrator Rashin from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies, signed by author Najmieh Batmanglij from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Persian cuisine by Moby Dick and thematic greeting cards will be available for purchase.
The annual event, celebrated in advance of the true holiday March 21, regularly draws crowds of 10,000 visitors, and is made possible by a gift from Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar.
On March 19, the new year celebration will continue with a free concert by Grammy-nominated artists Kayhan Kalhor and Shujaat Khan. In “Ghazal: Indian and Persian Improvisations,” the musicians will reunite for the first time in more than 10 years to perform their unique blend of Indian and Persian classical music.
The annual Nowruz lecture will take place March 29, co-sponsored with the Foundation for Iranian Studies. This year’s distinguished speaker will be Azar Nafisi, the best-selling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About. In the lecture, Nafisi will discuss her latest work, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books.
On view at the Sackler until May 3, “Nasta’liq: The Genius of Persian Calligraphy” is the first exhibition to focus on one of the most aesthetically refined forms of Persian culture developed during the 14th-16th centuries: nasta’liq, a type of calligraphy so beautiful that for the first time the expressive form of the words eclipsed their meaning. Also on view will be “Feast Your Eyes: A Taste for Luxury in Ancient Iran” featuring one of the largest collections of luxury metalwork from ancient Iran. In the Freer Gallery, visitors can enjoy one of the finest holdings of Islamic art in the United States, with particular strengths in ceramics and illustrated manuscripts.
Iranian photographs from the Freer and Sackler Archives’ collection of more than 1,100 original 19th-century prints and glass-plate negatives by Antonin Sevruguin and other Persian photographers will screen for visitors throughout the day. The collection–the largest public holdings of Sevruguin’s photographs outside Iran–was recently digitized and cataloged in its entirety.