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Sussan Deyhim Explores Work Of Iranian Poet/Feminist Forough Farrokhazah In ‘House Is Black’

Sussan Deyhim

Posted: Friday, January 26, 2018 – 3:51 PM

Multi-disciplinary Iranian-American vocalist and artist Sussan Deyhim will perform The House Is Black Media Project, a years-in-the-making work that marshals various facets of her career—opera, cinema, poetry, theater, video and performance art—to create  the world of Iranian modernist Forough Farrokhzad’s poetry and film,  at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 1-3 at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Accompanying the the  performances will be an exhibit, “Dawn of the Cold Season,” on view through Feb. 4.

The House is Black turns the works of Farrokhzad, which comprise its libretto, into a series of non-linear poetic tableaux, with Deyhim interpreting various characters from her poems as she takes audiences “on an evocative journey to Iran of the 1950’s and back into the present—where we need to embrace the universality and humanity of her message more than ever.”

An original score by Deyhim and Golden Globe-winning composer Richard Horowitz creates a cinematic musical accompaniment with influences rooted in Persian and Western contemporary classical, jazz, and electronic music, with an elaborate vocal soundscape and intricate sound design component.

Archival images and scenes from Farrokhzad’s documentary The House is Black and Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1965 interview with the poet, along with Deyhim’s original film and visual projections, provide a window into the life of the feminist poet and filmmaker.

Through this piece, co-directed by Deyhim and Robert Egan (producer of Angels in America), the audience takes a visual, sonic and theatrical journey into the heart of Farrokhzad’s work. “Forough spoke with awe-inspiring rawness and maturity,” says Deyhim. “She was an existentialist, feminist provocateur…Iran’s Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo, Maya Deren and Patti Smith all rolled into one. Her work has given me the inspiration to continue my own artistic journey during my 30 years in exile from Iran.”

Born in 1934, Farrokhzad was a trailblazer of modernism in Iran, both through literature and through the documentary The House Is Black, filmed in a Leper colony in Northern Iran. “Because of her gender, her unmitigated poetic ownership of her sexuality and desires, her assertion that poetry was her God, and her disregard for linguistic traditions, she was highly controversial and was banned for over a decade after Iran’s Islamic Revolution,” said Deyhim. “Willing to verbally probe her own desires, her poetry turned female-voiced erotic introspection outwards onto the page and towards the public, into an uncommon, and thereby-perceived-as-impious, display.”

“I sinned a sin full of pleasure/next to a shaking, stupefied form/o God, who knows what I did/In that dark and quiet seclusion,” she writes in her famed poem, Sin (translated from Farsi). “This openness set her in an emotionally exiled state, one that is mirrored in her artistic and activist interests,” said Deyhim.

The quarantined Lepers in a colony outside of Tabriz were the subjects of Farrokhzad’s first and only work of film, the documentary from which Sussan Deyhim’s performance takes its title. “She saw mysticism and sacredness though the eyes of lepers and lovers,” says Deyhim. The House is Black was an early example of and inspiration for Iranian New Wave cinema, and was made only four years before Farrokhzad’s death, at 32, in a car accident.

Deyhim says, in an interview for Ibraaz, “My work has always been about how I experience things. It’s about the future and asking how we shape it. I feel [Forough] spoke the language of contemporary Iran. She spoke of the existential realities of women being jailed, being deprived of their sexuality, and their lack of ability to voice these things. It was about the here and now. Because [there are powerful visual metaphors] in her poetry and she was also a filmmaker, my project could not just be a full evening of compositions around her poetry, there had to be a visual component.”

Theexhibition, “Dawn of the Cold Season,’ curated by artist/architect Kulapat Yantrasast includes a photographic series (produced during Deyhim’s Robert Rauschenberg Residency) inspired by Farrokhzad’s poetry. The exhibit, first shown in an earlier phase at LA’s Shulamit Gallery, also features narrative stills from the video installations in The House Is Black stage production.

Deyhim has collaborated with playwright/activist Eve Ensler, Shirin Neshat, Bobby McFerrin, Jerry Garcia, Peter Gabriel, Alexandre Desplat, Rufus Wainwright, and, most consistently, composer Horowitz, and contributed to film soundtracks including the Oscar-winning Argo, Any Given Sunday, The Kite Runner and The Last Temptation of Christ

Tickets range from $25-$55 and may be purchased online at or at the box office, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills.

For more information, call 310-746-4000.

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