This winter, Mr. Bowie’s IB Visual Arts class and Mr. Frengel’s IB Literature class conducted a live internet video exchange with Maryam and Ebrahim, Iranian students now studying art in Sweden. Maryam and Ebrahim offered many insights during an hour-long conversation about their Persian cultural influences and the role of government censorship in their home country of Iran. Organized by Mr. Bowie, the Skype session included 12 Academy students who also shared their dreams for the future. Given the political tension between Iran and the United States, it was an important moment when Academy students echoed Ebrahim and Maryam in hoping our countries find a peaceful resolution to our conflicts.
Ebrahim talked about the role of the artist in Iran – when the fundamentalist Islamic state censors freedom of expression, the artist must become more subtle, but the art itself grows more powerful. He told us about the sinking Iranian economy, then urged our students to remember that most Iranians do not hate America, and that people everywhere just want peace and security for themselves and their families. The crowds on the news in anti-American rallies are mainly ignorant and uneducated, easily manipulated (and sometimes paid) by the government to act this way. This brought our conversation to Persepolis, a graphic novel by Iranian Marjane Satrapi, which students in Mr. Frengel’s HL Literature class had read and discussed. It’s the true and inspiring story of a girl growing up during the cultural revolution that deposed the Shah, the institution of fundamentalist Islamic law, the war with Iraq, and, as an adult, her subsequent move to Europe to find freedom. “That’s our story!” both Ebrahim and Maryam exclaimed at once when they saw the students’ copies of the book. Maryam described dealing with culture shock, especially during Sweden’s long winters. The Iranian students seemed pleased that Academy students enjoyed two great Persian poets, Rumi and Omar Khayyam, which they read in preparation for the meeting.
We ended our international video conference on a positive note – that if the interests of politics and economics divide us as nations, perhaps art and literature may bring us closer as people. With the help of technology, it was a significant day both at Harrisburg Academy and in the global classroom.