Art Examines U.S.-Iranian Relations

"Iran/USA" runs through May 28 at Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art.


Peter Freund, detail from "Mossadegh Erased," digitally manipulated photograph.

I recently watched Argo, the 2012 film about the rescue of six Americans after the 1979 storming of the Tehran embassy by Iranian militants. The six escapees hide in the home of the Canadian ambassador until their rescue by a CIA exfiltration expert (played by Ben Affleck, who also directed). He provides them with improbable cover identities: Canadian filmmakers making a Star Wars-style movie entitled Argo. (The reference to Greek mythology is lost on the Hollywood producer enlisted in the ruse, played by Alan Arkin, doing a comic version of mogul Jack Warner).

While many critics loved the film—Roger Ebert gave it his final movie-of-the-year blessing—I found it, while gripping, somewhat one-note: Will the bad guys (scowling zealots and shouting thugs) capture and kill the good guys? The film does present an important story, kept secret for 30 years, but it also takes many dramatic liberties: Affleck characterized the film, with scant help from Britain and New Zealand as well, as “based on a true story.” Jimmy Carter, president at the time, clarified: “90 percent of the . . . plan was Canadian. And the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA . . . Ben Affleck’s character in the film was . . . only in Tehran a day and a half. And the main hero, in my opinion, was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

Iran/USA re-examines the relationship between the two countries, troubled since the 1953 CIA coup that brought the shah to power, protecting Anglo-American oil interests from expropriation by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was arrested and convicted of treason. The photographs and film/video installations of artist Peter Freund, who teaches filmmaking and critical theory at St. Mary’s College, could not be, unfortunately, more timely, given President Trump’s joking reference before a CIA audience in Jan. 21 to “another chance” at seizing Iraqi oil. 

Iran/USA runs through May 28; Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art, 1928 Saint Mary’s Road, Moraga, 925-631-4379, 


This report appears in the March edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.


Published online on March 17, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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