Gondishapour and the Habib Sharifi Scholarship
Founded in 2020, Gondishapour is Paris-based nonprofit organization that works to foster and promote artistic creation and cultural collaboration, especially among immigrants and exiled communities living in Paris. The idea to create a space for artistic and cultural expression came to Sina Abedi, architect, and Anousha Nazari, classical singer, both born and raised in Iran, as they faced the need to break down the traditional boundaries between art forms and explore new ways of expression. In 2016, they received an artist residency scholarship at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, a unique international campus that hosts 12,000 students from around the world. This experience deeply influenced them and amplified their vision to create a multidisciplinary and multicultural platform. To address the need for a supportive and inclusive creative community that welcomes artists and creators from diverse disciplines and cultures, Sina and Anousha created Gondishapour.
The organization takes its name from a large and prosperous city which was the intellectual heart of the Sassanid Empire in the southwest of Iran. The city served as the home to Gondishapour Academy, a university that served as a central hub of knowledge, philosophy, and medicine in the ancient world. Inspired by the stories evoked by the ancient ruins of their homeland, Sina and Anousha sought to reconstruct the spirit of Gondishapour by creating a space of learning and exchange for artists, scholars, and individuals
Since its inception, Gondishapour has organized a wide variety of events, often focused on Iran and its diaspora of artists in Paris. Gondishapour regularly hosts conferences on art history and architecture, poetry readings, film screenings, and photography exhibitions. One of its flagship events is the celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowrooz, with an intercultural festival. To bring their events to life, Gondishapour counts on a network of musicians, artists, and cultural practitioners. Many of them are Iranians in exile. These cultural events provide individuals with a space to express an enduring connection to their homeland while allowing them to expand their artistic imagination and connect with other communities.
In 2022 Gondishapour launched a new and exciting initiative—born from an evening of poetry and fortuitous encounters. Sina connected with one of the attendees named Amir Sharif, a businessman and pianist who had moved from Iran to France with his family in the early eighties. When the two men began speaking about Gondishapour, Amir knew that he wanted to contribute to its mission and support artists and cultural workers who, like Sina, work to make the experience of exile less lonely and distressing. They already shared a strong link as Amir had initiated a program that disbursed 100 annual scholarships at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, which both Sina and Anousha had benefited from.
To commemorate Amir’s father, Habib Sharifi, who passed away in March 2021, Amir developed the Habib Sharifi Scholarship to fund the artist residencies of four emerging artists. During the three month residency, the artists were tasked with creating an original piece inspired by one of the late Sharifi’s poems. Habib Sharifi was a poet and academic who left Iran with his family in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. He specialized in Eastern philosophies, mystics, and Persian literature and lectured at the Sorbonne on the work of Hafiz.
Beyond his academic work, it was through the act of writing his own poetry, that Sharifi was able to heal the deep wounds of displacement.
The Habib Sharifi Scholarship supports individuals who come from a background of forced migration and currently reside in the European Union. In the spring the scholarship issues a call for applicants, specifically artists who work with poetry, music composition and visual arts. The four artists selected then receive masterclasses and mentorship from a group of artists in the Gondishapour network. During the summer, the scholars complete their residency at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, creating their artistic work based off of a Habib Sharifi poem. When their projects are finalized, residents will have the opportunity to produce their work for publication—musicians will record their pieces in a studio to create a CD and poets will have their collection printed in a booklet. The Sharifi scholars will then perform their art pieces for an audience the following spring.
For its inaugural year, the Habib Sharifi Scholarship was granted to a poet, a composer, and a singer-songwriter who adapted the Sharifi poem, “La saison verte” [The Green Season]. With the support of encouraging mentors and each other, the artists-in-residence articulated diverse interpretations of the poem, drawing on Persian story-telling traditions and exploring Iranian music in their work. The final result was a series of multidisciplinary art pieces which all transmitted a message of renewal and beauty, even in the wake of the heartbreak that exile brings.
The musical compositions and poetry created during the Habib Sharifi residency will be made available to stream online for free, and the hope is that they will eventually reach hundreds, if not thousands of people. In an interview with ARC, Amir highlighted that many NGOs and inter-governmental organizations that serve forcibly displaced individuals are typically dedicated to providing material aid and often overlook the importance of psychosocial support: “to repair the souls of people we need to give them music and poetry.”
On March 25, 2033, Gondishapour will host a concert in which the inaugural Habib Sharifi scholars will perform to raise funds for the new cycle of residents. In 2023, the scholarship will only be open to emerging Iranian artists in exile who have been in the European Union for less than five years. At a time when fear and violence reign over the country, Gondishapour and the Habib Sharifi Scholarship want to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran. Through the transcendent power of creation, Gondishapour celebrates the enduring resilience of the diaspora in the face of the destructive forces of authoritarianism and repression.
Rose Bialer, March 8, 2023. Rose is pursuing a Mphil. in Comparative Literature from Trinity College Dublin. She holds a BA in Spanish and Sociology from Kenyon College.