Marjane Satrapi was awarded the tenth annual Bita Prize for Persian Arts on Friday, November 17, by the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies. More than 500 people attended the ceremony celebrating the writer, illustrator, and filmmaker. She wrote and illustrated the award winning graphic novel Persepolis about growing up in Iran after the 1979 revolution and during the Iran-Iraq war. She co-directed the animated film version in 2008, which was nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature film. Satrapi's other books and films include: Embroideries, Chicken with Plums, and The Voices.
The evening began with a video by Ala Mohseni, looking back on the last nine Bita Prize recipients. Abbas Milani, the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian Studies, welcomed the audience and highlighted the unique role of women in Satrapi’s work: "In Satrapi's world, women are daringly defiant, often satirically armed subjects, who help determine their own fate." Professor Harry Elam, the Vice President of the Arts at Stanford, gave the keynote speech reflecting on ten years of Iranian Studies at Stanford, identifying it as "an example of a truly interdisciplinary program...touch[ing] all corners of our campus." Elam emphasized the timeliness of the subtitle of the event, "Facts and Fictions of Women, Exile, and Identity" and the relatability of Satrapi's complex childhood. He emphasized the importance of the arts to help build a relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
As in previous years, Bita Daryabari welcomed guests in Persian and in English. In these challenging times of bigotry and religious intolerance, Daryabari said the "liberating voice of Satrapi, at once profound and humble, defiant and democratic, satirical but not bitter, self-critical but never self-loathing, is more than ever needed and appreciated."
In accepting the award, an emotional Satrapi said, "This prize from Iranian Studies means a lot to me because no matter who I am and who I have become, I owe it all to my country, Iran." She finished the evening by engaging in a lively Q&A with the audience.
A few local high schools and middle schools, including Palo Alto High School, recently read Persepolis and were eager to join in the conversation. Questions also came from aspiring artists, young schoolgirls asking about the importance of lasting friendships, and college freshmen as well as international students. Satrapi's responses were marked by candor, humor, and defiance.
The Bita Prize for Persian Arts is part of the Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters. It is awarded each year to an artist of Iranian ancestry whose work exhibits singular achievements in both the realm of aesthetics and in the essence of defending the rights of artists to create freely.
Previous Bita Prize winners include the poet Simin Behbahani, musician Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, playwright and filmmaker Bahram Beyzaie, and author Shahrnush Parsipur.