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"Shirana Shahbazi: Goftare Nik (Good Words)"
2001-08-03 until 2001-09-23
Photographer's Gallery
London, , UK

Shirana Shahbazi's stunning installation Goftare Nik (Good Words)1 explores the physical landscape and human faces of contemporary Iran, through a combination of colour photography and large-scale painting. What little photography there is, in Iran, has tended to be dominated by black-and-white reportage. Shirana Shahbazi's images are, by contrast, sweetly coloured, emotionally detached, and do not appear to tell an immediately obvious story. Her photography marries a Germanic-style cool observation, to pictorial traditions as diverse as propaganda painting and ancient Persian miniatures.

Like the scenes of singing and dancing and feasting in miniature paintings, her photographs impart an epic quality to modest scenes of social activity: people at home, at work, at play, people at parties and weddings. When Shahbazi commissions a street poster painter (still, in the absence of large scale printing techniques in Iran, the purveyors of cinema hoardings, political posters and street advertising) to paint one of her photographs on a huge scale, she co-opts a street vernacular which is simultaneously heroic and kitsch. These paintings are returned to her installations, sometimes re-photographed, sometimes incorporated just as they are.

The people in Shahbazi's photographs are treated as social types rather than specific individuals - a young army conscript, a Shi'ite fundamentalist, a female office worker, a middle-class Westernized family, a bride and groom, a heavily made-up, chador-clad woman. Collectively (her images are always grouped together in dense arrangements) they create a complex portrait of Tehran, its surrounding landscape, and the people who inhabit it. There is a deliberate refusal to romanticise or exoticise her images of Iranian life, which distinguishes Shahbazi from many contemporary Iranian artists and film-makers. She strips the imagery of the Orientalist imaginary - the desert, the odalisque, the veiled woman - down to its bare reality. The complexity of Iranian society cannot simply be reduced, she feels, to the question of hejab and the oppression of women, but has to be understood in terms of competing forces of tradition and change. It is a society where women can be apprehended for wearing lipstick on the street, and yet more women than men currently attend university, and a female politician is one of Khatami's vice-presidents. It is a society in which the march of Western-style progress (nowhere more evident than in the frantically expanding city of Tehran) clashes continually with the State's rigid religious controls. In avoiding an explicitly political stance, Shahbazi is able to reveal Iranian contemporary life with all its contradictions and ambiguities intact.

Shirana Shahbazi was born in 1974 in Tehran. She studied photography at the Fachhochschule in Dortmund, and at the Hochshule für Kunst und Gestaltung in Zurich. Her recent exhibitions include Heimaten at the Galerie für zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig, and Zurich - Urban Diary, at Galerie Bob van Oursouw in Zurich.

Kate Bush
Senior Programmer

1 Good Words derives from the Zoroastrian credo of good thoughts, good words, good deeds and refers back to an optimistic religious morality Shahbazi sees as fundamental to the spiritual traditions of her country.

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