Earlier this month, I went to an amazing exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts on the very last weekend it was here. It was called “She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World.” Much has been written on the exhibit’s themes of identity, individuality, and refuting stereotypes about the Middle East, as well as its exploration of daily life against the backdrop of violence, war, and varying degrees of repression.
I appreciated the opportunity to explore these ideas while looking at the exhibit, but what I want to focus on in this blog post is my difficult-to-describe impression that a brief moment in the timeline of these women’s stories was intersecting with a brief moment in mine. Looking at photos of Middle Eastern high school girls in the haven of their bedrooms, surrounded by the items that mean the most to them and that express who they are and who they’re striving to become, I felt “sisterly” toward them; despite the obvious differences in our life experiences, at our core we want and need many of the same things. The exhausted faces of the women riding the subway told of concerns and challenges I can only guess at, just as I can only guess at the stories of those who ride the T with me in Boston; we brush shoulders for a few minutes, both lost in our own pain and thoughts, maybe never to see each other again in this world. This is the human experience.
Here are a few of my favorite pieces:
“Her Listen series comprises portraits of professional Iranian singers who, as women, are forbidden by Islamic tenets to record albums or perform in public…Tavakolian’s passion for these women’s stories led her to create imaginary photographic CD covers that represent the character of each performer, with titles inspired by Persian feminist slogans.” (from exhibit wall text)
“Ghadirian’s humorous pastiches set up encounters between different times and cultures. The European-influenced backdrop of a 19th-century Qajar-era Persian photographer is juxtaposed with contemporary studio props: ‘forbidden’ or restricted objects ranging from a Pepsi can to a boom box.” (from exhibit wall text)
“The photographs celebrate such modest pleasures as a picnic on the beach or an aerobics class…Connecting intimately with her subjects, Habjouqa gently portrays the bright side of their not-always-so-bright lives.” (from exhibit wall text)
“This early still represents metaphors of music, voice, and expression through delicately written Persian script across the singer’s face.” (from exhibit wall text)
Featured image from NewshaTavakolian.com