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Persian Delight
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Spring 1999

Persian Delight
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A striking exhibition at UCLA's Hammer Museum reveals the roots of a vibrant immigrant community
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By Peter Frank--art critic for the L.A. Weekly
and a widely published author and curator.

Irangeles. The neologism coined as the title to the 1994 book and accompanying photo exhibition at the Fowler Museum says it all. In Southern California, the largest and most ethnically and religiously diverse Iranian community in the western world has flourished in the 20 years since the Islamic Revolution. They have settled wide swaths of the San Fernando Valley, Orange County and Los Angeles' Westside, infusing the region with their vigorous cultural, intellectual and economic presence.

It is in the context of the Persian presence in and around UCLA that Royal Persian Paintings: the Qajar Epoch, 1785-1925, at the UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center through May 9, takes on more than merely aesthetic interest. The exhibition proposes that the history shared by so many living within the university's orbit ought to be understood in a new light.

The presence is evident everywhere, from the rug merchants on La Cienega Boulevard to the groceries, bakeries and gas stations along the avenues running under the 405 Freeway to the Persian restaurants, bookstores and service establishments dotting Westwood Boulevard, comprising as Farsied a stretch of pavement as can be found in the Southland. And UCLA has become a community hub, however informal, with the Center for Near Eastern Studies as a conduit and sponsor for many academic and cultural activities. Iranian-American students, in fact, constitute the second-largest immigrant group on campus - the first being all Pacific Asians. The Iranian Studies Program, a significant element of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, is among the oldest and largest such program in the nation and is the only place in the U.S from which a student can earn a B.A. in Iranian studies.

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