Curatorial note by – Ruchira Gupta
The photographs in this exhibition belong to various series by Shadi Ghadirian, a contemporary Iranian artist, who is preoccupied by women and their role in present day Iran.
In her desire to define a style that is original, questioning and nationalistic, Shadi has found a language that expresses the conflict between the modern and the traditional as the experienced identity of her generation. Her photographs question the tradition of the veil and at the same time question the futility of modern technology to liberate the woman from the veil. They depict women with scratch marks, in Qajar dress, in the Chador, with blurred bodies and faces, with a coke tin, a vacuum cleaner, a clothes press, a cycle, a newspaper or a frying pan. Censorship, gender stereotyping of jobs, routineness and obliteration of identity are manifested in her photographs.
Born in 1974, five years before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she came of age during the subsequent eight-year long Iran-Iraq war. She has little memory of the events of the Revolution or the events that lead up to it but has experienced the resulting social and cultural upheaval of both war and revolution.
She was six years old when the veil was imposed as a precondition of women’s presence in Iranian public places. She was fourteen when the war ended. Women were presented as grieving, supporting mothers of martyrs or brave soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war or guerrilla fighters and revolutionaries against the Shah. In those years-large imposing wall murals, paintings and posters with heroic and religious themes were the order of the day. In fact, this might have been the only public display of art that Shadi saw while growing up.
Many of the art administrators patronized by the Shah had left the country; a lot of galleries had closed down. Some artists stopped work, others migrated and some changed style or content to adapt to the revolutionary ideals of the time. Art was liberated from its dependence on courts (till the 19th Century under the Qajar’s) and the establishment (under the two Shahs). But new boundaries were imposed by the Revolution, the War and the quest to define Islamic modernism.
The authoritative drive for modernization started under Mohammad Reza Shah continued in a different and similar way. Great emphasis was placed on education and health along with the militarisation and technologisation
of the country. Many young artists like Khosrow Hassanzadeh, who came from working class families and others like Sadeq Trirafghan and Bita Fayyazi believed that the Revolution had opened up new possibilities for them. They were deeply patriotic but questioned many of the restrictions of the Revolution. They were also privy to the geo-political stereotyping of Iran and Islam after 9/11. They began to look for a new language that expressed Iranian modernity and questioned the limits of the State at the same time.
Women too began to look for ways to appropriate and reinvent new public spaces for themselves and navigate the obstacle of the veil. They had education and were and remain present in all public spaces: in universities, in administration, in industries, and even in the government. Women had begun to campaign for more rights on campus and outside. They turned to art on a large scale, entering the newly established art school and academies and private art classes to be able to find a voice. Shadi is one of them.
After the success of the liberal wing in 1997, old galleries reopened and new ones mushroomed. The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art resumed its programmes and held biennales and triennials in the different fields of visual arts. Internet arrived in Iran. Artists and art students once again connected to different art movements and markets in the world. They were already aware of their own art traditions like the Saqqakhaneh movemet that had made a serious attempt to reconcile tradition with modernity with its decorative orientation and motifs from the past drawn from rural carpets, folklore and religious symbols. They tried to blend the native with the global, the traditional with the modern. This has created a unique artistic evolution and new visual language reflected in Shadi Ghadirian’s work.
8 October, 2008