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A Picture of Freedom

Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian’s Miss Butterfly is a poignant statement on women’s rights in India today

Written by Kevin Lobo | Published: September 2, 2013 5:51 am

Even though women’s freedom is worse off in Iran,today,I wonder if the position of women in India’s social fabric is any different,” says Arshiya Lokhandwala,owner of Lakeeren Gallery at Mumbai’s Colaba. Shadi Ghadirian’s “Miss Butterfly”,which opens on September 4,curated by Lokhandwala,could not be showing at a better time at her gallery in Mumbai.

Though this series of photographs was created miles away in a state governed by Sharia Law,Ghadirian’s show brings up the same questions about women’s freedom and safety that have been plaguing every one since the gang rape of a young woman at Shakti Mills in Mumbai. The 15 images that make up the show are based on a play by celebrated playwright Bijan Mofid. The plot revolves around a hungry spider and a butterfly yearning for freedom. The spider strikes a deal with the butterfly that if it brings insects from the dark cellar,it would set it free. The butterfly,however,feels pity for the insects and returns empty-handed. The spider,touched by this gesture,sets the butterfly free anyway. The butterfly calls for the insects to join her to enjoy this freedom,but the insects refuse to do so.

Her visual interpretation of the play has photographs that show a beckoning light streaming from the windows. In the black-and-white series,a woman is positioned close to these windows — freedom is there to be taken,but a large web blocks her path. In her statement,Ghadirian says,“The spider web is an allegory to the social structures of Iran. The windows in her home are sealed by the web,and Miss Butterfly is cocooned safely inside. Of course,it is understood that this ‘protection’ can also harm.”

Ghadirian is part of Iran’s new wave of photographers who are influenced by the success of their filmmaking countrymen. She is best known for her series,Like Every Day and Qajar,which she developed about 15 years ago. Her work has always had a feministic bent.

Lokhandwala fell head over heels for Ghadirian’s work when she saw it at a gallery in Tehran. She even bought one of the pieces of the Miss Butterfly series. She says,“The photographs have so many perspectives to them. There are various subtleties to her work that you will enjoy only if you see it in person.”

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