MY IRAN | Six Women Photographers
by Lucia Peito
This is what Massumeh Farhad, Chief Curator and Curator of Islamic Art at the Freer | Sackler Gallery commented when asked about the American media’s portrayal of the exhibit, My Iran: Six Women Photographers, currently on view at the gallery.
This evocative exhibit opens with Newsha Tavakolian’s series, Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album video which is shot in slow-motion featuring a woman named Somayeh, who keeps eye contact with the camera and stands motionless. As the video tracks, you see her standing silently within the branches of a barren tree and the city skyline behind her. Plastic bags move delicately on the tree’s branches as the camera slowly closes up on her face.
According to the story, Somayeh divorced her husband and works as a teacher in Tehran, making known her personal struggle. This video sets the mood for the exhibition maintaining the similar balance of stillness with motion. The feeling of ‘in between,’ which is evident throughout the show is communicated through the intensity in Somayeh’s gaze, though she never moves nor speaks.
The emotion breaks through her silence.
In the adjacent room, Tavakolian’s series Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album is exhibited across the room from photographs by Hengameh Golestan from her series, Witness 1979. This set of photographs documents women protesting the mandatory hijab ruling among other restrictive laws placed on women by Ayatollah Khomeini after the Iranian Revolution. Golestan’s photos provide a look into Iranian women’s history. They destroy notions that Iranian women are submissive by showing them at an important moment of resistance.
Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album
Hengameh Gulesta, Photographer
Sharing the same room are photography portraits by Shadafarin Ghadirian from the 1800s. The photos highlight the rift created between modern and traditional culture in Iran after the revolution.
The series entitled Observation by photographer Malekeh Nayiniwhich is a personal project in which she digitally manipulated older portraits of her own family. In her series Sketches of a Fractured Song she digitally distorts photos of nurses from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. The distortion makes it look as though glass has been shattered over the photo.
In the final room of the exhibition, photographs by Gohar Dashti and Mitra Tabrizian are on view, each providing a haunting look into different aspects of Iranian life. A Deadly Affair and A Long Wait are two portraits from Tabrizian’s series Border, in which she photographs Iranians in exile. The photographs capture the essence of a fractured life and a longing to return. These images are liminal, and seem to be taken in spaces that are between worlds.
Dashti’s series Iran, Untitled and Slow Decay explore feelings of suffering and isolation. In one of her Untitled photos, 11 women dressed in dark clothing sit crowded on a sofa with a desert landscape surrounding them, creating feelings of both spaciousness and suffocation.
Dashti’s Slow Decay photos depict Iranians staring blankly into the camera, creating a domestic as well as eerie mood. There’s a subtle drop or pool of blood placed in each photo evoking the silence of suffering during times of war and political unrest.
My Iran will be on view August 10th 2019 - February 9th, 2020 at the Freer | Sackler Gallery.