Interview with Dr. Peter Keller

Right here in Southern California we have a wonderful museum that has much more to offer than you would think. Bowers Museum, which opened back in 1936 as a museum dedicated to the history of Orange County, throughout the years has become an internationally renowned museum
of world culture of art. You might remember that back in the 80s Bowers closed its doors, transformed and reopened in October 1992 having become six times the size that it orginally was! What has happened since 1992 is truly extraordinary.

In mid July, I was fortunate enough to speak face to face with the president
of the Bowers Museum, Dr. Peter Keller. Peter Keller—a gemologist who
has been in the museum profession for more than 30 years—worked at the Smithsonian Institution, Gemological Institute of America, and Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History before becoming president of Bowers Museum in 1992. Since starting at Bowers, Keller has built amazing
partnerships with The British Museum. The Bowers is the first museum in
the world outside Britain to sign an exclusive long-term agreement to showcase its most famous exhibits.

The most current exhibits at Bowsers include the Mummies: Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt Treasures from the British Museum which opened in April 17 (to a record 1200 visitors!) and will remain on display until April 2007, and Evita: Up Close and Personal which will be on display until October 16, 2005. I checked out both of these exhibits and I must say I didn’t want to leave the museum! I was mesmerized by the pieces that were in the Mummies exhibit. Now, I am not one who is new to visiting museums, I have been everywhere from The Getty to The Metropolitan in New York, but I was truly impressed!

In years past, the Bowers has exhibited jade pieces from the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912); objects from China’s Imperial Palace; glasswork from ancient Rome; the House of David Inscription, which left Israel for the first time to
come to the Bowers; fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Etruscan artifacts;
and artifacts from Tibet shown for the first time in the Western Hemisphere.

What makes Bowers truly unique is the relationships that have been built. “Peter’s philosophy is that in order to get historical and significant exhibits, you have to meet with people face to face,” said Rick Weinberg, Director of Public Relations. “It’s the personal relationship that gets things done. In the museum world, you have to earn trust.” And that is exactly what Keller has done throughout the years. But he is not alone in this.

Anne Shih, who joined the Bowers Museum’s Board of Governors in 1996,
and was elected to the Executive Committee of the Board, is the Bowers’ leading fundraiser. Her passion for the museum and art is amazing. Together, Shih and Keller have truly elevated the Bowers’ reputation in the museum world.

Currently the Bowers is going through as exciting new transformation. An $18 million project is in the works to open a new 33,000 sq ft wing including 3 new galleries, a 350 seat sloped auditorium and an atrium for galas like weddings, fitting up to 500 people. Don Kennedy, the chairman emeritus, was a key player in this new expansion. “Don has a huge force during the Bowers’ rise as a world-class museum, particularly in the historic agreement we signed with the British Museum and the north wing project,” Keller said.

Partnership, communication, strong relationships – these are all the key points that have led to the success of this rapidly growing museum that happens to be right around the corner for most of us. Plan a family outing on a Sunday and take a trip to Bowers. It truly is “your window to the world’s richest cultures.”

Kasra, Connecting the Persain community to Hollywood

The presence of U.S. based TV networks serving the Persian audience worldwide has been the raising ground for many young journalists who are
active in various fields of journalism. OCPC was able to get one-on-one with Kasra Ghanei, one of the leading journalists active in reporting on American cinema and entertainment. Kasra is an internationally recognized television reporter and personality, currently contributing to PBC television network and Tapesh Magazine. PBC is currently rated as one of the most watched Persian satellite network serving the global Persian speaking public.

It’s been a few years since satellite TV technology improvements and the proliferation of satellite dishes have linked Persian communities in the
Middle East to Persian communities living in the West, initiating a cultural communication channel between both peoples that had been largely sealed
for more than two decades.

Today, over twenty U.S.-based television networks serve the Persian community with American and Persian made content and programming. These outlets, who compete fervently with each other, rely on meager advertisement revenues that serve as the only source of their delicate existence. Aside from the difficulties, however, which are mostly creative, financial and resource oriented– not uncommon even among their American counterparts, few of these media outlets along with their journalists are playing a major role in connecting the Persian community to American culture and society.

Generally speaking, reporters such as Kasra agree that the Persian speaking television viewer is a Western-exposed viewer with enormous interest in American cinema and culture. “Dating back several hundred years, the
significant influence of British, French and later American cultures and arts
on contemporary Persian society and lifestyles, has instilled an anecdotal fascination for Western offerings among Persians” says Kasra . He continues
to add that “This fascination continues to exist today, in particular, when dealing with Hollywood films and celebrities.”

Kasra who himself admits to bearing a deep interest in American arts and cinema, has been active in the frontlines of Hollywood’s biggest events and gatherings. Persian T.V. viewers have become accustomed to watching him interview America’s biggest stars and celebrities from the red carpet. From
his unprecedented interviews with celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Omar Sharif, Adam Sandler, John Travolta, Brendan Fraser, John Voight, James Caan,
Terry Hatcher, Ed Harris, Salma Hayek, Joel Silver, Christian Bale and
George Clooney, to his most recent interviews with the legendary directors Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, Kasra has proven to be an effective journalist reporting from the heart of American entertainment’s biggest events.
In many instances, Kasra believes that “reporters like [himself] have been the only representatives of the Persian speaking community” at important international conventions and gatherings. Recently, when star-athlete David Beckham was in Los Angeles at the opening events of the David Beckham Soccer Academy of Los Angeles, the young journalist was there to grab a
one-on-one interview with the celebrity soccer player.

The interview was aired as part of a David Beckham program special which rated very high among the millions of viewers who tuned in worldwide. Or, in another occasion, Kasra was able to place his microphone in front of Oscar-winning film maker Michael Moore and grab the latest scoop on his upcoming project that may or may not be a sequel to Fahrenheit 911. This kind of
access to important international luminaries is notable for the Persian community, as they feel caught up to the events that are occurring all around their communities. But, more importantly, they feel a closer connection to the rest
of American community.

Persian journalists have been instrumental in the discovery of the rising trend
that proves Persian actors, writers and filmmakers are, more than ever before, connected to many of Hollywood’s best motion pictures. While most Persians are aware of Shohreh Aghdashloo’s magnificent performance in House of Sand and Fog (earning her the well-deserved Oscar nomination), there are also other great Persian artists with which the community is not as familiar. One example would be when Kasra met the talented Massy Tadjedin, the screenwriter for
the Hollywood film titled The Jacket, starring the Oscar winning actor Adrien Brody. Once Kasra interviewed Massy on the red carpet, he learned that she was indeed a 27 year old Persian writer/film maker with an English degree
from Harvard. Or at the premier of Oscar winning producer and writer Paul Haggis’ stunning film, Crash, Kasra was able to interview the two Persian
actors in the film, Shaun Toub and Bahar Soomekh, along with Paul Haggis himself. Many remember Paul Haggis from his Best Picture Oscar winning
film, Million Dollar Baby.

The news of these overachievers’ success serves as inspiration to Persian artists, no matter where they live in the world. It also serves as a reminder to the Persian community that their artists are involved in the very center of American culture and society

Reporting on arts and cinema is comparable to light US entertainment
for most Persians living in the U.S. and abroad. However, if it wasn’t for journalists such as Kasra, the Persian community would not be able to learn about the achievements of these hard working artists. Without that, it’s
unlikely that our community would be able to uphold its artists. Fortunately,
such journalism serves as an important bridge between the two cultures and
that is very rare to find in today’s geopolitical environment.

The Persian Wedding

From ancient Persia to present day Iran, the celebration of the uniting of man
and woman is described in this unique book. The visually captivating tradition
is carefully presented as a work of art, with ten paintings by internationally renowned artist Nasser Ovissi as well as many pages of photos of the ceremonial wedding setting and its details and symbolism. This beautiful bilingual book is written in its entirety in English and Farsi.

The author, Bijan Moridani, has researched the available information of the past as well as Iran of today. He presents the antiquity and the persistence of the tradition despite a tumultous history, and finally as he writes in his introduction, “in the end it’s love, love and love…”

Here’s a preview of some of the traditions that are fully explained and defined in this wonderful book!

Khastegari (asking for her)
– On a predetermined date, the young man and his family dress up and go to the young woman’s family’s house. They are greeted warmly… The girl enters the room carrying a tray of teacups and offers it to the guests. This is not an easy task. She is nervous and her hands are probably shaking..

Namzad-bazi (engagement flirtations)
– There is no married person who does not remember the exciting, wonderful memories of the period of time in which they are engaged. In a culture where any contact between a man and a woman is strictly limited, even after namzadi (engagement), this episode, which lasts from the night of the engagement to the actual wedding, is treasured. It usually starts with brief visits, most often in the presence of family members, an exchange of loving looks and occasionally, if they are brave and an opportunity presents itself, stealing a kiss, which is always associated with the feeling of anxiety and excitement…

Shirbaha (the value of milk)
– The literal translation is the value of milk given to the bride as a little baby. It symbolizes the hard work and endless effort spent in preparing a little girl for a grown up life. In many English language writings by non-Persian writers or even Persian ones, I have seen this tradition mistaken with “buying the bride” which shows the culturally limited understanding indicated in these writings…

Jaheeziyeh (preparing for an independent life – the dowry)
– Traditionally, the bride’s family prepares almost everything that the couple will need to start their independent life. Jaheeziyeh may include Persian carpets, a refrigerator, furniture, etc. It also indicated the economic capability of the bride’s family…

Stay tuned for more sneak peeks in next month’s issue about the Sofreh-ye Aghd, which is the traditional ceremonial setting.

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