Power of Make Believe

An exhibition juxtaposes the harsh realities of Iran’s politics with ideals of the fantastic

Written by Pallavi Chattopadhyay | Published:October 6, 2013 5:05 am

Photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi maps major events in Iran’s history through staged photography. Her series,By an Eye Witness,that has bullet-ridden bodies smeared in blood and bystanders running in panic,resembles a movie still. Be it the events of December 7,1953 (observed as Students Day in Iran) when three Tehran University students were killed while protesting the visit of then US Vice President Richard Nixon or the killing of the poet Mirzadeh Eshghi in his house on July 3,1924,under the behest of the monarch Reza Khan,“the idea was to remake the tragic moments of Iran’s history,” says the

Iranian artist.

Babak Kazemi’s photographs,which opened to a strong reception in Iran in March this year,are a part of the exhibition,“PIX: The Iran Issue”,that comprises works of 14 established photographers from Iran,on display at the Max Mueller Bhavan as part of the Delhi Photo Festival. The inspiration came to Akhlaghi from Neda Agha Soltan,whose killing captured by mobile phone cameras during the protests after the 2009 Iran elections made headlines internationally and gave Akhlaghi sleepless nights. To make these photographs a success,Ehsan Rasoulof,producer of the project By an Eye Witness,says,“It was run by a team of over 60 people,working with the decor,the make-up,

and clothes. Over 200 actors were involved.”

Kazemi’s photographs in The Exit of Shirin and Farhad lend a contemporary touch to the centuries-old tragic story of Shirin and Farhad. Farhad,a stone mason,and King Khosrow are in love with Shirin. To get rid of Farhad,the King assigns him the task of moving a mountain. Farhad proceeds with dedication and zeal. When Shirin visits Farhad,she faints and is carried by Farhad along with her horse on his shoulders. They then arrive at the King’s palace. In Kazemi’s version,instead of the horse,he shows a bicycle “since it is hard to imagine the popular mode of transport to be a horse these days.”

Kazemi,who is also a graphic designer,makes photo collages of two photographs juxtaposed over each other. He uses a technique called petroleum printing,which involves immersing his collages in oil,to give them a sepia tone,a reflection of

his childhood in the oil-rich city of Ahvaz.

This is evident in Kazemi’s series Alice in the Land of Iran,where a young girl in deep sleep,with a suitcase in hand,can be seen floating over Tehran. The city below her is in flames with billowing black smoke. Kazemi took his cue from the last presidential elections that witnessed widespread protests across the country. “It represents the dream of many Iranians who wish to travel abroad in the hope of a better tomorrow,” says the 29-year-old. But just like the unconscious girl would have realised when she woke up,this too is only a distant dream,he believes.

The exhibition is on at Siddhartha Hall,Max Mueller Bhavan,3 Kasturba Gandhi Marg till October 8

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