Arts A World Of Voices Muse

A World of Voices: Shadi Ghadirian

Jenna Luxon explores the empowering photography of Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian.

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Image Credit: Like Everyday, 2000

‘I am a woman and I live in Iran. I am a photographer and this is the only thing I know how to do’. These are the words of Shadi Ghadirian, an Iranian photographer born in Tehran in 1974. After studying photography at the Azad University in her home city, Ghadirian gained international recognition in the early 2000s with her series of work Like Everyday.
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Ghadirian’s work uses subtle humour to mock the stereotypes surrounding the role and status of women in Islamic states. Her work aims to show a more holistic representation of the lives of Muslim women living in contemporary Tehran, in contrast to the one-dimensional perceptions of these women’s lives commonly held in the West.

Ghadirian’s Qajar series (1998-1999) was inspired by 19th century photographs of the Qajar dynasty, who ruled Iran from 1794 to 1925. These original images were the first portraits to be permitted in the country by religious law, and featured individuals posing with their most prized possessions or objects of status. Ghadirian’s series replicated these settings and traditional costumes but with contemporary objects, representing the opposing pulls of tradition and modernity faced by Muslim women in Iran today.

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Arguably, however, Ghadirian’s most famous series of photographs is Like Everyday (2000-2001). This series challenges the common assumptions about the role of the housewife in Iran, by exaggerating misogynist stereotypes. The series uses the domestic items Ghadirian herself received as wedding presents to obscure the women’s faces in the images, mocking the perception that domesticity is a housewife’s entire identity.

In the past, Ghadirian has directly addressed Western stereotypes about Muslim women living in Iran, saying ‘It does not make a difference to me what place the Iranian woman has in the world because I am sure no one knows much about it.’ Ghadirian aims to challenge the ignorance of stereotypes: ‘Perhaps the only mentality of an outsider about the Iranian woman is a black chador, however I try to portray all the aspects of the Iranian woman.’

Ghadirian’ series West by East (2004) looks more closely at this relationship between Iran and the West, studying themes of religion and censorship. Whilst growing up in Tehran, the images Ghadirian saw of women in foreign magazines had always been censored. This involved the authorities using black ink to cover any parts of women’s bodies that could not by law be publicly exposed in Iran. Ghadirian drew on this as inspiration for her West by East series, commenting on how in the modern day such censorship had lost all meaning with the availability of the internet.

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When I first saw an exhibition of Shadi Ghadirian’s work in person, it was not only the incredible photography that struck me but also the realisation that I had never before seen an exhibition solely featuring the work of a Muslim woman. Ghadirian’s work will not reflect the experiences of all Iranian women or all Muslim women for that matter, and it was never designed to. Similarly, there is so much in her work that is relatable to people from all cultures and religions across the world.

Ghadirian’s work is empowering in its ability to give agency to a group who in the past have been consistently overlooked and labelled by others. The way Ghadirian uses such clever humour to mock the stereotypes used to marginalise Muslim women living in Iran is fascinating.

Just looking at Ghadirian’s photography online still gives me that same feeling of empowerment, as if Ghadirian and I are both in on the same joke. Both of us smug in the knowledge that all women across the world, regardless of their culture or religion, are each multidimensional individuals worth far more than ignorant stereotypes.

*Image Credits: Qajar,1988. Like Everyday, 2000. West by East, 2004. *

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