The ffotogallery in Cardiff has been exhibiting photographs by and about women in Iran. I caught the last day yesterday. As a whole the exhibition oscillates between celebrating love and marking censorship. The curator, Amek Mahmoodian, has a wonderful exhibit of 21 pictures of scarves knotted under the chins of different women. She says the knots of these scarves are opened and closed every day … the knot of happiness, the knot of fatigue, the knot of oldness,, the knot of beauty, the knot of sorrow and the knot of love.” It’s a sweet study of the head scarf from the inside, loving the women who wear them in so many different ways and with such pride.
Other works look at the isolation and silencing of women in Iran. Hadise Hosaini, who took the picture on this post, says Censorship … removes them [women] from the life stream… women imprisoned within the walls of a house … ponder deeply. These women who cannot find a way out. The detailed hyper-reality of this portrait is entrancing, drawing us in to the silence and contemplation imposed by the prison of control.
Hosaini’s last sentence is not the only response. The wonderful Iranian writer Shahrnush Parsipur has in her own person and her work shown alternatives. She has had to flee Iran, but her novels, articles and interviews consistently show different choices and futures for women (and men) in her homeland. Her first novel translated in English was Women without Men, which is all about women entrapped in these dusty, leaf-littered courtyards. She writes of the different kinds of escape that women might find, some of them self-immolating, but others finding grandeur and peace. She likens the position of science to that of women, saying (in a 2006 discussion I had with her) it is impossible to write scifi in Iran, because science itself is so limited and constrained. The scientific method may be put to many uses, but that genie will never go back in the bottle. We need to say the same of women’s rights. This exhibition (much of which had to be brought covertly out of Iran) shows that we can be confident that women’s creativity may be muffled but it is vibrantly alive.