Global Persian culture celebrated in new London exhibition

Thursday 05 March 2015

A new photography exhibition celebrating Nowruz, the traditional Persian New Year has opened today at the British Council’s headquarters in London.

‘The Spirit of Nowruz’ exhibition forms one of the main centrepieces of the British Council’s UK-Iran Season of Culture. The exhibition showcases and celebrates modern Nowruz festivities as they occur in communities across the world. In 2015 Nowruz, or Persian New Year, is celebrated on the 21st March.

In the UK several million people celebrate Nowruz each year. Nowruz is celebrated by more than 300 million people worldwide, and officially marked in 17 countries across the Middle East and Asia.

Curated by renowned artist, writer, and curator Haleh Anvari, this exhibition focuses on the contemporary experience of celebrating Nowruz. The exhibition features submissions of photography, film and animation from artists in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan and Kurdistan, Iraq, and highlights the breadth of Nowruz’s reach, crossing national borders and including people from different ethnic, linguistic and religious communities.

The celebrated Iranian photographers Abbas Kowsari and Newsha Tavakolian have work displayed in the exhibition, and new commissions of graphic design and animation by Katayoon Forouhesh and a digital Haftseen instillation by Kambiz Safari are displayed for the first time. Historical context is provided through photographs by Max Penson, taken in Uzbekistan in the 1930s and 1940s.

While the subject matter of the photographs is varied, in almost all there is a strong focus on communal activity and engagement with the natural world.

Nowruz or ‘New day’ in Persian is a thirteen day New Year celebration which is tied to Zoroastrian and Persian traditions, dating back at least three thousand years. It begins on the first day of spring in the solar calendar, around the 21st of March, a date that marks the New Year for many and is a national holiday in a number of countries.

Danny Whitehead, the British Council’s Country Director Iran, said 'Nowruz is a major international cultural celebration, but is under-recognised in the UK. We're delighted to be able to bring together this exhibition to provide an opportunity for our UK audiences to engage and learn more about Nowruz and the countries, societies, and communities who celebrate it. Nowruz is also widely celebrated by many diaspora communities in the UK, and is now an important UK festival too. We have in the UK perhaps the richest and most culturally diverse of societies, and it is right that Nowruz is recognised along with other celebrations such as Chinese New Year and Diwali as an important part of the calendar.'

Exhibition curator Haleh Anvari said “Nowruz is an ancient Festival celebrated across the Persianate world, but in this exhibition we aimed to show the viewer its prominent place in the contemporary lives of the countries that celebrate it. Marking the arrival of the new year at the precise moment of the arrival of Spring, reconnects us to nature's own rhythm.

“We have tried to share the excitement of the preparation for this New Year celebration and the charm of the varying rituals across a wide region through a series of photographs by both prominent and amateaur regional photographers. The curatorial aim was to highlight the personal experiences of Nowruz across a wide region and spectrum of people.”

This exhibition is taking place as part of the British Council’s UK-Iran Season of Culture. Between January and April 2015, the British Council has led a series of activities focusing on the cultural links between Iran and the UK.

Through nationwide exhibitions, performances, discussions, workshops, and seminars, the UK Iran Season of Culture will explore Iran’s cultural heritage and vibrant contemporary creativity, enabling the people of the UK to experience and re-interpret Iran.



Notes to Editor

For more information or to speak to Danny Whitehead, please contact Tim Sowula, Senior Press Officer, British Council or 0207389 4871

For images from the exhibition, please see or contact Tim Sowula

The Spirit of Nowruz exhibition is open, free to the public, at the British Council’s office in London, seven days a week from March 5 to 15 May. The British Council’s office is at 10 Spring Gardens, London SW1A 2BN 


UK-Iran Season

Between January and April 2015, the British Council will lead a series of activities focusing on the cultural links between Iran and the UK.

The UK Iran season will spotlight the rich and dynamic culture of modern Iran, and its ties with the UK in the areas of arts, education, and languages. It is intended to showcase existing partnerships and to provide a space and a platform for the development of new opportunities, partnerships, and collaboration for our audiences and partners. It is a core part of our goal to bring about better understanding of each other’s country, and through that understanding, to create trust.

Through nationwide exhibitions, performances, discussions, workshops, and seminars, the UK Iran Season of Culture will explore Iran’s cultural heritage and vibrant contemporary creativity, enabling the people of the UK to experience and re-interpret Iran.

Some of the upcoming season events will be:

·         The Spirit of Nowruz Exhibition

04 Mar – 20 Apr; Spring Gardens

·         Day of Debate & Screenings: Iranian Cinema After the Revolution

21 Mar 10.30 – 18.30; Chapter, Cardiff

There are also a number of key publications including:

1)     Didgah: new perspectives on UK-Iran cultural relations. A collection of 15 authors sharing their opinion and perspectives of cultural relations between the UK and Iran.

2)     English Language Teaching in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Innovations, Trends and Challenges.

3)     Nowruz, Persian New Year Education Packs for Schools. School packs for primary school children in the UK including suggested plans for lessons and assemblies.

The full schedule is available online at

British Council and Iran

The British Council has worked in Iran since 1942. Although the British Council closed its office in Iran in 2009, we have continued our cultural relations work to support the aspirations of Iranian stakeholders who wish to maintain dialogue and contact with the UK.

We work in Iran in partnership with UK and Iranian partners. We also work with many of our partners such as teachers or educational institutions in English language through cascade models, and have significant reach through digital channels.


·         Even working remotely since 2009, in 2013/14 our work reached over 300,000 people, and we aim to reach over half a million Iranians in 2014/15.

·         We have provided English language teaching support to over 3,000 teachers in Iran, and have provided materials development support for the new curriculum which will reach every province of Iran.

·         Our arts work makes measurable change in perceptions, and we have facilitated major UK-Iran collaboration and cooperation in music, film, theatre, and architecture.

The British Council has responded to the recent improvements in the bilateral relationship by exploring new models of engagement with and in Iran, identifying opportunities for individuals and cultural relations organisations in both countries, and strengthening mutual understanding and cultural ties.


Key Iran Facts


1.     The Islamic Republic of Iran is the second most populous country in the Middle East, and it has maintained the second largest economy in the region despite recent years of sanctions. Its population is approximately 77 million.


2.     Iran is one of the most stable countries in the region, and is a top priority country for the UK in both the security and prosperity agendas. Economic growth projections are strong, subject to continued progress in other negotiations.


3.     Iran has one of the richest cultural and linguistic heritages. Standards of education are very high, and it has one of the highest rates of literacy in the region. 

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides less than 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.


For more information, please visit: You can also keep in touch with the British Council through and