Twenty five years ago, when Shadi Ghadirian decided to pursue photography, she believed it to be a “quick” medium. “You push the button, and the art is ready,” she jokes. In the decades since, she has painstakingly chronicled the transition of life for women in Iran, lending her incisive and ironic perspective to document her country’s shift towards modernity.
Her 1998 series, Qajar, consists of women posing in locales and garb typical of the Qajar dynasty (which ruled from 1789 to 1925), but featuring modern objects such as sunglasses, bicycles and helmets.
She is, however, quick to point out that her art is not primarily political. “I am an artist, not an ambassador of the country,” she says, conceding that one of art’s functions is to help make sense of politics. “When we open our eyes in the morning to see the news and the things that happen, it can and should be explained better through art.”
Ghadirian’s ctrl+alt+del series, which will be on display at the Chennai Photo Biennale this year, is a photographer’s reflection on how people are left with no choice but to embrace (in varying degrees) technological changes. Body parts are juxtaposed against the all-too familiar icons from a computer’s desktop. “When I started the series, I was pregnant. Everybody told me I shouldn’t use the cell phone or computer because it would be dangerous for both me and the baby,” she reveals. But making those changes was not possible, given that a large part of her professional life involved working on the computer. This paradoxical and complex relationship with technology forms the theme of her series.
Her wry perspective and humorous outlook has won Ghadirian much acclaim. In addition to working at Tehran’s Museum of Photography (Akskhaneh Shahr), her photographs have been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington DC, among others. Her work, she says, is like a mirror of her life. “Whatever has happened to me — you can see that in my stories.”
The voice within
Close to home, Ghadirian says, is where her inspiration stems from. “I didn’t search for the subject and the ideas for my art from outside, but always listened to the inner voice. Everything else follows.”
After the Chennai Photo Biennale, the photographer will host a retrospective exhibition in Iran, looking back on her decades-long attempt to give the country’s women an authentic artistic platform.
For more details about the Chennai Photo Biennale (February 22 to March 24), visit chennaiphotobiennale.com.