Through a Different Lens Female Photographers Depict Their Iran

A unique photography exhibition in central Berlin is showing the work of six young Iranian women. Their styles and vision differ hugely but all of the photographs deal with identity -- and many turn the traditional views of Iranian women on their head.

By Siobhán Dowling in Berlin


A woman in a headscarf photographs herself in a mirror, pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini cover the wall behind her and her lens also captures three laughing bare-chested men in the corner of a cramped room. The photograph by Mehraneh Atashi of a men's sports center in Tehran, is just one of 70 striking photographs by young Iranian women on display in Berlin's Cicero Gallery.

Entitled "Made in Tehran" the show exhibits the work of six young Iranians, all born between 1974 and 1981, who have all studied photography in Tehran. While the woman have very different artistic visions, the photographs are all marked by the theme of identity, of being young and female in today's Iran and of how that generation views the past. While some of the photographs capture everyday scenes others use collage and other methods to create individual and distinctive photographic styles.

Newsha Tavakolian is a photojournalist who has been working for the Iranian press since she was 16, and who won the National Geographic Society photo award in 2006 for her photo essay entitled "Iran: Women in the Axis of Evil." She has chosen to depict young Iranians in their everyday life: Women in headscarves sit smoking in a café, or demonstrate for peace; young men celebrate with their friends around a campfire. Two young women in headscarves walk under a billboard of a suave young man wearing shades and sitting in a convertible.

Mehraneh Atashi's series of photographs called Zourkahneh, or "power house," show young sweaty men in a sports center. The young photographer managed to get into this exclusive male world and the result is a highly unusual series of images. They show the headscarved woman with a camera in the mirror's reflection, controlling the scene and its protaganists. It turns traditional views of gender relations in the Islamic republic on their head.

Atashi, who has exhibited her work in Paris and London, has another photo series in the show. A group of boxes on the floor show images of feet standing on collages of family photos, making it seem as if they are the viewer's own feet. The images, which include photos of women from before the 1979 revolution in dresses without headscarves shows how much that era is distant history to this younger generation.

Gohar Dashti also used old photos, though she has chosen to rephotograph faded images with writing scribbled over them. And her group of diptychs reveal the traditional living spaces with and without the elderly women who live there. Ghazale Hedayat's "Peepholes" series shows the mysterious view through peepholes into documents, photographs and other scenes.

Perhaps the most experimental work is by Hamila Vakili and Shadi Ghadirian. Vakili uses broken mirrors and walls to split up her images and collages and she also has a series of close-up images of girls' schoolbags with stickers and stencils of surprisingly Western figures such as Barbie and the Powder Puff Girls. Ghadirian shows a woman in a black cloak or chadour, only her head, hands and feet are visible against the black background, but WINDOWS icons represent the outline of her body, hinting to tensions between maintaining traditions and modern communications.

The Berlin exhibition has attracted close to a thousand visitors since it opened on Nov. 22 and it has now been extended into the new year.

Made in Tehran. Cicero Gallery. Berlin, Germany. Through Jan. 19.

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