If nineteenth-century Iranian women discovered time travel, where would they go? What would they bring back?
Photographer Shadi Ghadirian did not have these questions in mind, persay, but she is interested in how the Western world perceives Iranian woman like herself. In her photography series “Qajar,” she brings out the cognitive dissonance that someone unfamiliar with Iran may experience, as well as comments about the position of women in society today.
“Qajar” was photographed between 1998-2001, just after she graduated from Azad University in Tehran. Below, she explains the meaning of this series, and the role it plays in her larger body of work:
It does not make a difference to me what place the Iranian woman has in the world because I am sure no one knows much about it.
Perhaps the only mentality of an outsider about the Iranian woman is a black chador, however I try to portray all the aspects of the Iranian woman….
When I did the Qajar series of photographs, I had just graduated and the duality and contradiction of life at that time provided the motive for me to display this contrast: a woman who one can not say to what time she belongs; a photograph from two eras; a woman who is dazed; a woman who is not connected to the objects in her possession.
To achieve the sense of “a photograph from two eras,” Ghadirian asked her models–mostly friends and family–to dress in 19th-century Qajar-era clothing and styled them after portraits taken during that time. During the later Qajar period, photography portraits were permitted under religious law, and it was quite popular for the elite to take their own portraits. Both men and women were allowed to have photographs taken of them, and since these photos were taken in the home, women actually dressed more casually than they did in the street. Formal Iranian attire was preferred, though Western clothing was also featured in these photographs. Nasser al-Din Shah, for example, dressed his harem in a redesigned, modest version of the French tutu for photos after visiting Europe and becoming obsessed with ballet.
In the Qajar series, however, Ghadirian’s subjects are more modestly dressed–Ghadirian’s commentary on the more conservative straits put upon the Iranian woman. And in a nod to the Shah’s harem, her models are also wearing the softer version of the tutu over their traditional dress.
All of the antique props and backdrops are authentic to the time. Modern objects provide an “anachronistic” twist that compliments the women’s bold stares and confident poses.
The Saatchi Gallery describes Ghadirian’s work as using “subtle humour to describe a contemporary Iranian female experience of existing as if outside of time.” Indeed, looking at these photos, with their juxtaposition of past and present, portrays the the place of women in Iran today: slightly ludicrous, but daring to move beyond the backdrop they are placed in.
“Shadi Ghadirian Refashions the Tutu” on Unframed – A blog run by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art