My Iran: Six Women Photographers

“My Iran: Six Women Photographers” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Aug. 10 through Feb. 9, 2020. It is the latest in the museum’s ongoing exhibition series of contemporary Asian photography. Drawn from the museum’s growing collections, the works of these six female photographers, Hengameh Golestan, Newsha Tavakolian, Malekeh Nayiny, Shadi Ghadirian, Mitra Tabrizian, and Gohar Dashti, present multiple visions of Iran that are largely unknown to American audiences.

From the dynamism of the street to the quiet corners of distant memories, the works featured in My Iran: Six Women Photographers explore the complexities of life within and outside their home country. The images offer nuanced views of Iran while shedding light on each photographer’s identity as an artist. Hengameh Golestan’s shots of women protesting in the streets of Tehran following the 1979 Iranian Revolution capture the spirit and force of a social and political movement that dramatically altered the role of women in society. The remaining five artists — Newsha Tavakolian, Shadi Ghadirian, Malekeh Nayiny, Gohar Dashti, and Mitra Tabrizian — work in this post-Revolution environment, staging and manipulating photographs to reveal deeply moving individual stories, as well as unique observations about contemporary life as an Iranian. Together, these images explore themes of memory, loss, and exile, but also of defiance and hope.

My Iran also honors the legacy of Dr. Jahangir Amuzegar (1920–2018) and the Eleanor and Jahangir Amuzegar Fund for Contemporary Iranian Art, which provides ongoing support for programs of contemporary Iranian art.

The works span a period of some 40 years, from the early days of the Iranian Revolution to the present, and offer a female perspective from inside and outside Iran. Sharing a visually poetic sensibility but diverse in scale and format – some images are documentary, others are staged or manipulated – the photographs acknowledge the past and confront the present and capture the photographers’ complex relationship to their country of birth.

“Over the past several years, we have assembled an impressive collection of modern and contemporary photographs from Iran,” said Chase F. Robinson, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art. “These works by six exceptional female photographers complement our rich historical holdings and allow us to share with our visitors a nuanced perspective on post-revolutionary Iran.”

“Although each artist works in a different style and format – from the highly personal to the abstract, from relatively small scale to monumental presentations, the works share a distinct subversive mood, which strengthens their meaning,” said Massumeh Farhad, interim deputy director for collections and research, chief curator and The Ebrahimi Family Curator of Persian, Arab, and Turkish Art. 

Although all six photographers explore timely and universal issues of loss, alienation, and separation, their works still convey a subtle sense of hope and anticipation.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of public programs that include conversations with some of the artists, as well as lectures and discussions on the role and impact of Iranian women in film, poetry, and fiction.

This exhibition is supported by the Jahangir and Eleanor Amuzegar Endowment for Contemporary Iranian Art; Contemporary Asian Art Endowment; Ebrahimi Family Endowment for Persian, Arab, and Turkish Art; Persian Art Programs Endowment; Mehr Foundation; and UAS Asset Management.

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