by Majeed Beenteha
To rebel against the Islamic regime, women in Iran choose not to respect the dress code.
In charge of arresting the culprits is Iran’s moral police.
Photograph Maryam Rahmanian ridicules these practices with this series of amazing photographs, that will most likely never to be publicised in the country.
“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he would be justified in silencing mankind.” John Stuart Mill
Censorship knows many guises, the likes of which, or at least in my country, Iran, force themselves on the public domain as much as they do on the private. Being it through the rough imposition of moral strictures, or the subtle filtering of the unconscious self, the impact of both ends up the same; suffocating, hurtful and, ultimately, destructive.
Not surprisingly of course, in this realm too, women once again find themselves singled out as a constituency particularly deserving of special attention and zeal.
As I happen to be one of them, I can not help but to voice my own part of this age-long story, however small, insignificant or subjective. A personal voice, that speaks mutely through a series of visual portraits, of myself, and someone close to me.
A license plate depicting a number, as if a prisoner, but also as proof of my existence, the physical appearance of which must be publicly denied, at all times, at all cost. How better to protect the dignity of my being, than having my naked flesh concealed by the crude ink strokes of the cultural guidance official’s “moral values” marker?
Or covered in white plastic sheeting, commonly used to protect the sacred white of the holy burial cloth from being spoiled with the blood of our wounds? Conveniently white-washing the crimes that were its source. The private suffering of a woman carefully concealed from the public eye, not to spoil the feigned public image of respect and reverence. An extra layer of dark plastic, to make clear that my identity as a woman with opinions and ideas is a mistake in need of correction, to be erased as one erases a misspelled word on paper. And then there is that shameful hair of course, ripped and torn, as they do with those street posters that are found not to meet our alleged standards of moral decency.
A woman, double-exposed with a puzzle, and so divided in many pieces, its uniqueness instantly destroyed, transformed into a toy not to be taken too seriously. Now so easy to take apart at will, exclusively by the hands of others. But the jig-saw does not extend fully to the mind, the sole domain where women can still hold on to their self-determination and autonomy.
These images speak a common language in the place where I live. Portraits of my generation, our common experiences and challenges in life. A generation that has experienced revolution, war, immigration and more. Experiences, any one of which are said to be sufficient to turn a boy into a man, but which are apparently assumed to leave the other sex wholly untouched.
In my own small, personal voice I say: Not so. Instead, it’s hard, sad and often unbearable.
You can find every woman’s totems is their rooms. You can understand her very own self, the real one and live with. Amongst women I’ve chosen for this story, there is a woman who’s living Iran forever.
The other one is leaving her room and her home, One of them is young and worried about the tomorrow waiting for her, The other one has packed her stuff for a trip, the embassy has not been enough kind to her and now she has remained with the world which has not been very friendly with her. The other one has been divorced and what is left for her is a room in whose peace she’s seeking herself.
This story is just a sample scheme of a society in which people live who vary.
While living in Malaysia, Nafise Motlaq found the way people talked about her home country, Iran, disturbing. They seemed to lack a realistic vision of the country because they relied mostly on stereotypes.
Inspired by this frustration and a trip home to visit her father, Motlaq, a senior lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, decided to try and explore the father-daughter relationship in Iran using photography.
“There is a stereotype of Iranian men and women, which you see in a lot of mainstream media. This simple project is a reaction to that. It’s about real portraits of Iranians,” Motlaq said via email.
While Motlaq doesn’t think the relationship between fathers and daughters in Iran is too different from those in other countries, she was keen to use it as a way to highlight the country’s “diversity of families, opinions, and classes of society.” The fathers she ultimately photographed represent a range of professions, from farmers to engineers to clerics. Their daughters’ descriptions of them are just as varied. Some seem protective (“My friends think he cares about me too much but I think he is a great supporter in my life,” one said) while others come across as quite liberal (“Our father has studied in Europe. That’s why he gave us all freedom the Western youths have in personal life,” said another).
Other images signal more ambiguous relationships. One daughter, standing with her father, a military veteran, tells Motlaq, “He is always my hero, but I wish he was a hopeful happy father he used to be.” Another says, “I don’t know what to say about him. I really don’t.”
Motlaq spent a little less than two weeks photographing the series, traveling through cities and rural areas in order to better capture a wide swatch of the country. Her goal, she said, was to show that “Iranian men are not all the same.” Among them, she said, are many like her own father who train and support their daughters and women’s rights in general. “There are a lot of successful Iranian women in universities, business, art, science, and industry and we should understand most of them have very supporting fathers and male friends in their life,” she added.
Iranians, and Iranian photographers in particular, are trying paint a more accurate picture of their country for the world. Motlaq hopes that trend continues and that her own project helps replace stereotypes with real, if not exactly picture-perfect, representatives.
“My culture may have lots of weakness and things that I don’t agree with, but, whatever it is, it’s far from the current image that the media have been created for people of the world,” she said. “When you live outside Iran, you get tired of those wrong perceptions, those weird questions and dark images people have about your country. They judge everything based on that false information. I think knowing the reality and truth is very important even if it’s bitter sometimes.”
Iranians enjoy a global reputation in carpet weaving. This set of pictures shows Iranian life of Persian Carpet, one of the most famous characteristics of Iran. Persian carpet has always been a fixed element in Iranian houses. This delicate art is always present in happiness and mourning, childhood and maturity, the loneliness and being together in the people lives.
The context of carpet is actually a part of the collective memory of Iranians and Iran is associated with very beautiful and colorful carpets in minds of many foreigners, too. Series “Iranian Life on Persian Carpet” is trying to apply signs that have bold role in Iranian lifestyle, have subtle references to this common culture and collective memory of Iranians; with emphasis on permanent presence of the Persian carpet in every Iranian memory.
The carpet, in all frames, does not change but the elements and objects on it are changing frame by frame to imply the passing of life and showing that life is in progress. In fact, I recreated some aspects of the real Iranian lives in this photo story to show the Persian Carpet capabilities and different applications in our houses. This is a timely reminder of the country’s rich crafts history.