Arts & Entertainment, Features

‘Nowruz’ – Museum of Fine Arts hosts event celebrating Persian New Year

Nowruz, which translates to English as “new day,” is a Persian term that signals the start of spring. It is also a term describing the Persian New Year, and to celebrate, the Museum of Fine Arts held an event Saturday showcasing Persian art and dance.

MFA Persian new year
The Aftab Dance Group. The Museum of Fine Arts hosted an event March 19 to celebrate Persian New Year, also known as “Nowruz,” which showcased traditional Persian art and dance. COURTESY OF CAITLIN CUNNINGHAM PHOTOGRAPHY

The event included take-home art kits, a traditional “Haft-seen” display and a performance by the Aftab Dance Group. A “Haft-seen” is a traditional arrangement consisting of seven symbolic items, associated with the 15th letter of the Persian alphabet, and can take months to organize and design.

“It’s a really beautiful, joyous spring arrangement that people kind of can go and search for the items within the display,” Kristen Hoskins, the director of lectures, courses and community celebrations at the MFA, said.

Metal coins, often included in the “Haft-seen” arrangement, were featured in an art kit at the event. Museumgoers were provided with cardboard, glue sticks, foil, scissors and coasters to emboss and inscribe their own coins.

“They get seven metal disks that are gold and they can emboss their own designs into them which brings wealth and prosperity into the new year,” Caitlin Doyle, manager of community arts operations at the MFA, said.

In addition to the display and the interactive art activity, the event featured two performances by the Aftab Dance Group. Aftab strives to “share Persian culture through dance,” Neggin Rostamnezhad, Aftab Dance Group’s co-captain and co-choreographer, said.

The group dances to a mix of both traditional and modern pop songs and performs at parties, shows and concerts in Boston and the New England area.

“Iranian Persian culture is spreading joy through movement and dance and color and bringing people together,” Annahid Dastgheib-Beheshti, Aftab Dance Group’s co-captain and co-choreographer, said.

Being a member of Aftab goes beyond dance, Rostamnezhad said.

“It’s not just about, you know, delivering a beautiful performance, it’s also the relationships you build and form in the Persian community in Boston,” Rostamnezhad said. “We can talk about our culture together, share in our wins and losses, and it’s just a really great support system.”

​​Mahvash Hajibandeh, an Iranian immigrant and audience member at the event, said the performance reminded her of her Iranian culture. Hajibandeh moved to the United States after facing persecution in Iran and has lived in America for over 30 years.

“This brings absolute joy in my heart because here, [there is a] sense of freedom and being able to enjoy something that is in my blood and my culture,” she said. “I never had a chance to experience it in Iran, in that land, but here we have that.”

The event wasn’t limited to Iranians alone, with people from all over the world attending.

“We are one family,” Hajibandeh said. “ The whole world is one family.”

Dastgheib-Beheshti said cultural events like this one help people to better understand one another and bridge communities.

“I think it brings people together to see the positive parts of everybody’s cultures,” she said.

According to Sassan Tabatabai, a master lecturer in world languages & literatures and the core curriculum and coordinator of BU’s Persian Language Program, events like this help increase Persian visibility and educate others on Persian culture.

“Nowruz is a celebration of spring – something that resonates with all the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere,” Tabatabai said. “It is a reminder that celebrations based on nature and the turning of the year reinforce our common bond as human beings who occupy this planet.”

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