For artists Gina Cunningham and Peter Eves, innocently pursuing their own interests inadvertently leads to promoting international understanding. In the early Nineties, their fascination with all things Haitian resulted in them opening South Beach's highly touted Tap-Tap restaurant, serving generous portions of Haitian cuisine and culture to clueless South Floridians. They sold that venture in 2000 to pursue less hectic, more creative projects. Forming the nonprofit organization Ynot Art Productions, they made the short film Welcome to Miami, which delved into Miami-Dade County's erstwhile Cuba Ordinance that barred Cuban artists from performing in Miami.
Wanderlust then took them to India and Russia, and late last summer Eves, a British citizen, got the opportunity to travel to Iran. Equipped with a digital video camera, he spent almost two months in the country, including five days with the Bahktiari nomads. Eves returned to America a few days before September 11. One year later, his surprising findings will be presented during the multimedia weekend dubbed In the Land of the Stone Lions. The title refers to Iran's once-flourishing lion population and a set of ancient stone monoliths in honor of fallen heroes that Eves photographed on his trip. The project idea "came out of the feelings of the last year," says Cunningham. "There's a lot of misunderstanding about what's going on in the Mideast." The three days will showcase recitations of works by thirteenth-century poet Rumi, a dance performance, a screening of the film Gabbeh, and a brunch featuring Iranian dishes.
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Although the Iranian hostage crisis, where Americans were held captive overseas for 300-plus days, occurred more than 20 years ago, many U.S. citizens still harbor ill will toward Iran, especially considering Iraq is next door. Eves, however, found a country transformed, where the mullahs are no longer esteemed and the populace is weary of their leaders' manipulation. "What I got from the Iranians is that they are only too willing to be part of our world," Eves explains. "They're very aware that they're a pawn in a great energy game. We want to show people that there is another point of view to what we hear so frequently in the media."