Prizes From Fairyland was filmed around an active oil well in the suburbs of Ahvaz, Iran. It is a five act chronicle that was performed without a pre-planned schedule for passers-by going to and from the oil and gas extraction and refinery facilities. The sequences re-animate historical colonial and technical drawings, as well as photographic documentations produced during the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s (now BP) presence in these landscapes.
The narratives begin by an imaginary tea ceremony between the Shah of Persia and William Knox D’Arcy in 1901, facilitated by contemporary oilmen. It continues to depict the indigenous Bakhtiari garment pattern that later became known as the signature uniform for British-backed local militias referred to as the “Pipeline Guardians.” It follows with appropriating drawings relating to militarized smoke-generators and oil-denial schemes produced by colonial reconnaissance officers and decoy specialists. The video perfromance brings attention to the visual modes of rebranding associated with the moment of post-colonial oil nationalization in Iran, by re-enacting the historic image of swapping the oil company’s name tag on the British and Iranian headquarters, in addition to reworking Bakhtiari carpets into historic oil tanker flags before and after nationalization.
In reference to the intertwined history of cinema and oil extraction in southern Iran, the video is presented in an installation format resembling the architecture of Abadan’s notorious central cinema Taj. This building was initially proposed by the city’s colonial planners in the late 1930s as a means of addressing the increasing sociopolitical tensions and strikes that arose in response to the company’s discriminatory ethnic policies. The plan was for the cinema to act as a social bridge between the poor workers living in the city’s northern territories and the more prosperous foreign workers inhabiting the southern regions. Its construction led to managed to quench the conflict temporarily until the company designated its use solely to British and Indian staff, leading to massive protests and eventually resulting in the nationalization of Oil in Iran and the beginnings of Britain’s colonial control over middle-eastern hydrocarbons. In reference to the common victorian era peep-shows (Shahr-e-Farang) that imported the earliest versions of moving-image devices into Iran from British-India, this installation allows the viewers to watch the video through the open windows of Cinema Taj’s scale model. Lastly, free-copies of a ficto-critical novela that engages with the complex relationships between ancient mesopotamian mythologies, oil extraction and the early attitudes towards cinematic arts in the region accompanies the installation and allows the audience to delve deeper into the work after their visit to the museum.