Tales of freedom from behind doors

Pictorial storytelling

In India, when an artist decides to mix mediums – water colours, sketches, film and photography – we call it ‘artistic freedom.’ However, for artists in several other countries, where freedom of expression is curtailed, mixing mediums and innovative studio photography becomes the only way to express oneself.

This is beautifully illustrated in a photo exhibition being held at Max Mueller Bhavan currently, titled The Iran Issue. It features the works of 14 talented photographers from that country and is themed The Interior as most of the photographs have been taken indoors, some even staged. Photojournalism is not encouraged in Iran.
Pix, a quarterly photography magazine has put together these brave works.

Its founder and curator Rahaab Allana says, “For long, Iran has disallowed any photographic depictions of the denial of religious, political and gender rights there. So many brilliant photographers have been sent to exile and are forced to practice their art outside of their country.”

“Nevertheless, many have also come up with innovative ways of articulating their angst, through studio and staged photography. It is exemplary how they and few select galleries in Iran have upheld the torch of freedom of expression at a personal risk. We are very happy to showcase their work to the world.”

The works of Aarash Fesharaki are especially praiseworthy in this context. She has very imaginatively drawn sketches over her photographs to demonstrate the lack of sexual freedom for women in Iran. One picture simply has a man sleeping on a bed but Aarash has completed it with the figure of a naked woman approaching him. She calls it Temptations of Morning Sleep.

Ata Mohammadi has creatively juxtaposed various objects of everyday use to tell stories of repression. A tea bag does not contain tea leaves but medicinal pills. It’s titled Depression. Another picture of an umbrella has the handle of a knife. It’s called Life theatre.

Gholam Reza Yazdani has given a new definition to voyeurism. He has set up half-a-dozen wooden boxes with keyholes. On peering into them, you see a woman smoking, a girl reading ‘forbidden literature,’ a man watching porn and another enjoying as he speaks to a female friend on the phone. Clearly, Iranians find freedom only within the four walls of their homes.

Two Iranian photographers working outside their country are also featured here. Majid Saeedi has taken some exemplary shots of Afghanistan – women in burqa stitching a beautiful crochet costume for a Barbie doll, a religious instructor mercilessly beating a little boy and a former Talibani proudly displaying his weapons.

Mahdieh Mirhabibi also deserves mention for her very sympathetic portrayal of refugees in Somalia’s camps. This exhibition is remarkable not just for its sensitive subject but also a very sensitive portrayal. Not to be missed.   

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