The deep divisions wrought by five full years of war in Iraq are evident everywhere. At a small language-immersion school in Denver, a photo exhibit and political statement by an Iranian artist have raised the ire of some parents. At a tiny international school in southeast Denver, a conflict is playing out that reflects, in a microcosm, the wider divisions in American society as the nation enters the sixth year of a bloody, unpopular war.
A display of photographs and a statement by the Iranian artist in the halls of Colorado International School has caused a dust-up between administrators and an outraged parent who accuses the school of spreading “anti-American propaganda.”
Every month at this language-immersion school of 44 students, most of whom are in pre-school and kindergarten, the customs, geography and language of one nation are highlighted with a special presentation. This month, to coincide with Persian New Year, the focus is on Iran, and the school invited Farhad Vakili Tabar to display photographs from his homeland.
The pictures show smiling children at work and at play in the different regions of Iran. No controversy there; it’s the artist’s statement of purpose, which is framed and hanging by the school office, that has raised eyebrows.
Near the photos of the Iranian children is one image of an Iraqi boy named Ali Rekaad, a brief story of his life, and the date and time that he and his entire family were killed by a U.S. bomb. Underneath is artist Farhad Vakili Tabar’s stated purpose for the collection of photographs:
“By showing the portraits of some Iranian children, I hope to bring up the faces of thousands of Iraqi children who have died, become orphans, handicapped or homeless in this war.”
Michael Thau, who says he speaks for other furious parents, calls the display traumatic and inappropriate for children, who shouldn’t be learning about the murder of innocent children at the hands of U.S. soldiers — people who could be members of their own family.
“This has nothing to do with one’s perspective on the war and occupation,” Thau said. “The whole purpose of the exhibit is to feel bad about and learn about dead children in Iraq reportedly killed by U.S. forces – that’s enough for a lot of people to see this as an extremely volatile, one-sided, half-truth approach.”
Cielle Amundson, the head of Colorado International School, says the display of photographs was meant to help students identify with the children of Iran. The artist’s political statement was purposely hung high – above the eye-level of 4- to 6-year-olds – where it would be visible to the adults.
“I don’t see it as anti-American; I see it as anti-war,” Amundson said. “It was meant for adult discussion. The little kids have no clue; they are just excited to see images of other kids around the world.”
Asked why he used images of Iranian children to make a statement about the war in Iraq, Vakili Tabar answered that the image of Ali Rekaad reminds him of the boys and girls he grew up with in Tehran.
“To me the point is that we can’t go after bad guys and become the bad guys ourselves; to isolate the terrorists we must not ourselves terrorize; destruction is not the way to peace,” he said.
But Vakili Tabar, who has lived in the United States for 31 years, says even a U.S.-led war that he vehemently opposes will not shake his allegiance to his adopted country.
“This country is much more than its politicians,” he said. “This country is the people and the concept behind its formation. I love this nation because in both law and concept it has accepted diversity.”
The display of Vakili Tabar’s photographs, as well as his statement of purpose, is currently on display at the Colorado International School, 4100 E. Iliff Ave., Denver.