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Disability, Art and Potentiality: Reframing Disability as a Metaphor for Potentiality in the Islamic Republic of Iran


Pieter Verstraete ,

Centre for the History of Education, Pedagogical Institute 03.12, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, BE
About Pieter
Pieter Verstraete currently works as a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Pscyhology and Educational Sciences of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
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Peter Van Goethem

Freshwater Films, BE
About Peter
Peter Van Goethem is a director and producer for the independent production company Freshwater Films. He has completed his Masters in Educational Sciences.
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Background: There is a lack of studies examining the meanings attributed to disability in Eastern contexts. This is especially true in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Studies – accessible for non-Farsi readers – dealing with the existence and position of persons with disabilities in contemporary Iran are rare.

Purpose: The present study is part of an investigative journalistic project submitted to and approved by the Fund Pascal Decroos for Investigative Journalism. The aim of the project was to discover if and how progressive Iranian artists were able to work and express critical ideas in contemporary Iran.

Method: Based on a journalistic stay of five weeks in the cities of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd, the authors attempt to present a particular and up till now neglected perspective on disability in Iranian society. Interviews were conducted with contemporary Iranian artists, including painters, photographers and film directors to see how the bodily reality of disability was transformed into a meaningful, effective and efficient metaphorical instrument.

Results: Some of the Iranian painters, directors and photographers considered the artistic representations of disability as a powerful means to engage in present-day political and religious public debate. For the artists the symbolic representations of disability enabled them to express their particular worldviews and give voice to their creative insights. For some, war-related disabilities mirrored the cruelty of military hostilities; for others it symbolized the struggle for freedom in Iranian society since the very beginnings of the Twentieth century. One of the results that came out of this journalistic investigation is that some Iranian artists turn towards disability issues and persons with disabilities in order to continue to publicly express their particular world-views.

Conclusion: Given that the interviewed artists belonged to rather progressive circles of Iranian society, these findings are limited and cannot be generalized, but reflect one aspect of the manifold ways persons with disabilities are represented in contemporary society. In order to provide a complete view on the divergent positions of, and daily life circumstances faced by, persons with disabilities in Iran much more research is needed.

How to Cite: Verstraete, P. and Van Goethem, P., 2012. Disability, Art and Potentiality: Reframing Disability as a Metaphor for Potentiality in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Disability, CBR & Inclusive Development, 22(3), pp.81–88. DOI:
Published on 15 Feb 2012.
Peer Reviewed


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