Report by Julie Ershadi and video by Shahin Shafaei
Some 75,000 celebrants gathered in the heart of Los Angeles on the 4th of July to witness the unveiling of the largest symbolic gift that Iranian-Americans have ever given to the United States.
Dubbed the ‘Freedom Sculpture,’ the 20,000-pound statue now sits as a permanent installation on one of the busiest intersections in Los Angeles. Thousands of people passing in and out of the wealthy and heavily Iranian neighborhood of Beverly Hills every day will see what its creators consider a symbol of the commonalities between Iranians and Americans.
The sculpture was commissioned by the Farhang Foundation, the Los Angeles-based philanthropic organization whose cultural and artistic endeavors typically serve the dual purpose of inspiring pride among Iranian-Americans and improving the public image of Iranian culture in the eyes of Westerners. Alireza Ardekani, executive director of Farhang, describes the attention of his Iranian audience as secondary to the goal of reminding Americans of European descent that the Iranian and American cultures have more in common than the mainstream narrative would suggest.
“We wanted a symbol of our commonalities, where Iranians come from – regardless of the current regime – and what they believe in, and how Cyrus inspired the founding fathers of America,” said Ardekani, referring to Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire.
Cecil Balmond, the British engineer and artist who designed the Freedom Sculpture, modeled its interlocking gold and silver geometric pattern after the Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient, clay cuneiform tablet in a cylindrical shape that is considered to be the world’s first declaration of human rights.
Describing the intention behind his design in an interview at the event, Balmond, who lived in Tehran for a period of his life, said he appreciated Cyrus the Great’s early championing of human rights.
“The message of shared freedom is needed now more than ever in the world, here in this country and everywhere else,” he said.
In 2013, Farhang sponsored an exhibition of the original clay Cyrus Cylinder at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles after it was shown at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art in Washington, D.C. That was the first time that the Cylinder was shown outside of the British Museum. During those exhibitions, it was displayed alongside copies of Thomas Jefferson’s drafts of the Declaration of Independence, which was heavily inspired by the principles enshrined in the ancient Persian emperor’s clay edict.
Tuesday’s unveiling event, dubbed the Los Angeles Freedom Festival, was all part of Farhang’s greater messaging campaign to create a more powerful sense of shared identity among Iranians and Americans. To that end, it was both a celebration of Iranian heritage and of the United States’ defection from the British Empire in 1776. American flags hung high alongside Iranian flags, while Iranian-Americans of all ages sang and danced to performances by Persian pop singers Ebi and Arash.
The Freedom Sculpture sat veiled beneath a blue-and-gold marquee until the very end of the evening, when its covering was lifted to the sound and fury of high-flying fireworks in all the symbolic colors: red, white and blue – but also red, white and green, the colors of the Iranian flag.
Ardekani said Farhang intends to make the Freedom Festival an annual event, permanently solidifying in the minds of Angelenos the idea that both Iranians and Americans value the principle of freedom.
Farhad Mohit, founder of Flipagram and vice chairman of the Farhang board of trustees, highlighted Los Angeles as the ideal location from which to broadcast this message – and not just because it’s home to the largest enclave of Iranians outside of Iran.
“Los Angeles embodies the natural benefits of diversity, showing how we enrich and enhance the collective human experience when we embrace and appreciate each other’s differences,” he said. “There is literally no better place on earth for this historic gift.”
#freedomsculpture #crowdfunding #farhangfoundation #cecilbalmond#farhadmohit #cyrusthegreat #cyruscylinder #publicart #modernart#sculpture #beverlyhills #losanageles #mayorgarcetti#iranianamerican #iamanimmigrant #iran #persia #persianking#humanrights #fourthofjuly #freedomfestival #arash #ebi #maxamini#fireworks #independenceday #kayhanlife #kayhanlife