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Do Iranian Dancers Need Saving? Savior Spectatorship and the Production of Iranian Dancers as ‘Objects of Rescue’" – Talk by Dr. Heather Rastovac

January 24 @ 4:10 pm - 6:00 pm

Time: 04:10 pm – 06:00 pm
Location: Hart Hall 3201

Building upon transnational feminist analyses on Euro-American (neo)
colonial “saving” enterprises, this talk draws critical parallels between
the militaristic imperative to “save” Muslim women at the start of the
US-led War on Terror and the discursive frameworks that position Iranian dancers as needing to be saved from the Iranian state, their families, or from Islam, which ostensibly forbid them to dance. Because of Iranian state-implemented restrictions on public dance performance, effective since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, dancers, audiences, and media often construct diasporic spaces as offering Iranian dancers the unconditional freedom to fully realize themselves as artists. In this narrative, Iranian dancers gain agential freedom – a dancer’s subjecthood – only through non-Iranian spaces, whether geographical or familial. In turn, I argue, this account constructs Iranian dancers as what Inderpal Grewal calls “object of rescue.” I develop a theory of what I call savior spectatorship, a looking practice that operates within transmedia environments wherein discourses and images (static and moving) construct Iranian dancers as victims and their Euro-American and diasporic audiences as compassionate saviors. My case study focuses on Iranian dancer Afshin Ghaffarian, who emigrated from Iran to Paris in 2009. I trace how savior spectatorship is produced in the French reception of Ghaffarian’s live performances and through the American-produced feature-length film Desert Dancer (2014), a sensationalized biographical drama portraying Ghaffarian’s life as an aspiring dancer in Iran and his
defection to Paris. I argue that savior spectatorship and discourses of freedom surrounding Iranian dancers produce affects of empire that work to reinforce the image of Euro-American exceptionalism. I interrogate how dance becomes a form of “proof” of one’s humanity, which thus marks those who “oppress” dance as non-human, and ultimately (if even unintentionally) becomes dangerous currency within the global War on Terror. However, the dancer = human equation is a precarious one, for if an Iranian dancer becomes a “grievable life” (in Judith Butler’s terms), I argue that it is contingent only upon the purview to save.

This event is sponsored by Cultural Studies Graduate Group

For more information please contact: https://culturalstudiesgg.sf.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk1096/files/inline-files/1.24_Rastovac.pdf


January 24
4:10 pm - 6:00 pm

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