Prizes from Fairyland
The significance of Iran’s oil for the allied forces during WWII, and the deep collaboration between British military figures and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s developers made the refineries in Abadan a critical site determining the fate of the war. Abadan’s large refinery was the primary source of energy and lubricant oil for the North African and Southeast Asian theaters, and a key resource for the Royal Navy. Under such conditions, Abadan, and by extension the entire oil-rich region of Khouzestan is intricately intertwined with the history of the West’s most deciding moments.

Prizes from Fairyland was developed based on a series of recently declassified documents kept at Britain’s National Archives. These documents point to an era of petroleum development in the Middle East where competing factions of colonial interests, particularly during WWII heightened the potential of bringing European powers face to face in Iran’s southwestern regions. The tactics described in these records are commonly referred to as “oil denial schemes.” Despite being implemented to a limited scale, historically, these strategies were never put in full motion as intended by their original authors. Some of the most crude highlights in these records involve schemes for polluting underground water reserves in desert regions of Khouzestan and Southern Iraq, in anticipation of local aggression and resistance to Britain’s colonial presence; or the development of heavily pollutant smug-producing mechanisms fueled by imported Singaporean cotton on the banks of Shat-Al-Arab and Bahmanshir rivers in hopes of hiding the entire region from the vision of incoming axis’ pilots! Lastly and most disturbingly, these resource denial schemes included “doomsday” scenarios revolving around total annihilation of industry and food logistic chains in southern Iran, in case of axis’ invasion of the refinery in Abadan.

With hopes of unsettling conventional historiographical frameworks obsessed with the weight of colonial archives, this project unfolded as a performative installation in the same facilities and geographies targeted in the aforementioned records. Taking place in Ahvaz’s Atisha region, Prizes from Fairyland introduces select elements from the historical denial schemes in the forms of visual tropes mobilized by the National Oil Company’s industrial cranes. Weaved amongst the rigidity of these elements are also references to the complex and hallucinatory history of Khouzestan as seen through the lifting of the Bakhtiari “chogha” patterns in the beginning of the performance and the transformation of local carpets into oil tanker flags hovering over the landscape near the end of the piece.This project is an attempts to bring together the visual vocabulary and aesthetic formations of Khouzestan’s local culture with the heavily militarized language of international oil conglomerates and their sanctioning state patrons.

The performance’s particular site, Atisha, is quite famous in Ahvazis collective memory. In the winter and during rainy weekend, thousands would have gathered by the warm flares of this processing facility and make memorable hours from its fiery towers. Multiple films produced in this region also reference the social significance of this site and a place of gathering and celebration. Over a decade now passes from the time the entire facility was fences off and new security measures were implemented to keep out anyone but NIOC employees.

Amin Roshan-Rouzbeh Akhbari