by Afra SafaOct 06, 2021
The photo-performative works by the Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian, as an exploration of the legacy of binaries – centre and periphery; tradition and modernity; past and present – that seeps in a variety of lives, offer critical cultural engagement in the globalised world. Laced with troupes of wit and satire, Ghadirian strives to stage-manage her photographs that instantly catch the attention of diverse audiences. Best known for her Qajar Series, Like Every Day that talk about the concerns engulfing the lives of women, Ghadirian is equally at ease with visual narration on the complexity of war and loss which was made visible through her series My Press Photo, White Square. Ghadirian has widely displayed her works across the globe, including The British Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, Victoria and Albert Museum, Smithsonian Museum, mumok, Venice Biennale, along with many more biennales, museums and galleries.
Please talk about your general practice.
I consider myself a photographer who does stage photography. During the last twenty-five years as a practising photographer, I have always preferred to tell stories about human issues, mostly women, who live in my country-of-origin, Iran. So first, I try to watch the people with high sensitivity and then choose a social issue that requires creative attention, and then try to visually translate it in my mind, and at last, I start to recreate them in my studio or a setting of a location. Talking about people is my main interest. Years ago, I was actively involved with the issues of women’s rights. It was the time that I directly showed the achievements or problems of Iranian women. But gradually, I shifted towards the subjects of human rights. Now, I prefer to talk about the concerns that deal with not a single gender, but the human tribe.
What are the key concerns that you aspire to address through your work? What prompted you to make this your area of focus?
There are many concerns in my society that I feel need my attention, but I can only represent a handful of them through my practice. I choose the ones that I can show via the art of making photographs. Topics like modernity, tradition, everyday life, routines, censorship, war, or some emotions like fear, freedom, and solitude are the handful of ideas that I mostly try to focus on.
How does art intervention question the normative order? Do you think art helps its audience to think and experience about matters that are otherwise considered of a lesser-importance?
I do not believe that artists can change the world. Yet, I believe an artist should highlight a topic to achieve the attention of the audience, who can furthermore question the injustice or prejudice prevalent in the social milieu. It is equally important to understand how an artist wants to talk about it and when and where she wants to represent the sensitive concern of society. The audiences are important too. In fact, they are the last station of the train, which draws meaning out of the artwork. Nowadays, we are bombarded with different audiovisual aspects that surround us, so an artist should think more deeply and choose the right way to represent a story, if he or she yearns to share their work.
What kind of artistic liberties do you take to reflect the reality of the community?
I believe motifs and icons should be tangible and sensible. I like the ideas toward which people can feel empathy. That is why I choose themes that I encounter first, and when I am sure about it, have deep knowledge about it - detailed observation, reading and fieldwork - then I try to visualise it in my mind. After undergoing these stages, I feel I can initiate the project. So I do some sketches and tests, then I create a group of people who are expert in the art of scene designing, lighting, models and at last, the final process of capturing the image begins.
How do you involve artistic sensitivity to capture the fragility of the people who are often misunderstood, stereotyped or unheard? How do you balance the aspects of sensitivity and solidarity?
I doubt if I have a direct answer to this question. I would say, the question that I keep asking myself is how and why should an artist remain satisfied with everyone and everything around him or her? Artists, for me, just raise an issue and everyone brings in their own perspective. An artwork is like a baby, once it is born, it has a life of its own. The artworks find their ways, on the walls of a gallery or a museum or in the biennales or festivals, on the pages of a book, catalogue, magazine or a newspaper, or on a wall of a house and, at times, these remains hidden in a corner of a desk drawer.
Lastly, how far have things changed in the past years and what do you aspire as an outcome in the long term through your work?
During the last few years, things have changed a lot. The internet and social media have made the world smaller. The artists, curators, audiences are so close now in terms of social interaction on social media handles. You can just sit in front of your computer or mobile, and visit the archives of the large museums. I can be at home, in a place of my comfort, and watch the live opening of my exhibition in the USA or Japan, to give an instance.
Having said that, even if communication has become easier, the task to choose an impressive and pertinent theme that could really bring about a change has become more difficult. I believe that the world is still spacious enough for everyone to take on the journey of having intimate conversation and dialogue. Also, we are all unique and we should just keep practising the art of thinking and creating.
Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.