Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Becoming a Woman in Iran

The Iranian Queen of Fado: Newsha Tavakolian

By Mrs. Deane
nothing is too amazing to be true
30 May 2011

Lis­ten © New­sha Tavakolian

Slowly, doggedly, per­sis­tently, steadily New­sha Tavako­lian has been build­ing her career, first as a pho­to­jour­nal­ist for local news­pa­pers in Iran, then work­ing for inter­na­tional media, today includ­ing reg­u­lar con­tri­bu­tions to The New York Times Lens blog. Now she is edg­ing towards the world where doc­u­men­tary meets art project, announc­ing her arrival with a project aptly called "Lis­ten". "Lis­ten" deals with female ambi­tions being frus­trated but not extin­guished by the pow­ers that be. If women in Iran are for­bid­den to sing solo or record music, then noth­ing stops them to per­form in silence. Tavako­lian lets them act out their dreams in front of her cam­era, and pro­vides them with the stage they so ardently seek. Her por­traits show these singers when they are at their most unpro­tected and vul­ner­a­ble as they descend into con­cen­tra­tion and focus on the music. At the same time there is some­thing pow­er­ful about them. The result is a heady mix of defi­ance, vul­ner­a­bil­ity and sen­su­ous­ness — in short: the dan­ger of the Sirens.

Listen © New sha Tavakolian

"Lis­ten" exists as a series of pho­tographs as well as a six chan­nel video instal­la­tion, which can be viewed in sim­pli­fied ver­sion on her web­site. All women are seen singing sound­less simul­ta­ne­ously. Because the dura­tion of each song is a dif­fer­ent one, some singers are cued to begin a few sec­onds later, oth­ers fin­ish ear­lier, adding to the flow and dynam­ics of the whole experience.

Listen © New sha Tavakolian

Another part of the project con­sist of six empty CD cases, sym­bol­iz­ing the music Ira­ni­ans are miss­ing out on, designed by Tavako­lian based on a series of self por­traits. This is an impor­tant iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the pho­tog­ra­pher with the per­form­ing artists. Not only did she want to become a singer her­self when she was younger, the stand-in can evi­dently be read as a metaphor for her own posi­tion and ambi­tions as a pho­tog­ra­pher. "Lis­ten" is the horn sound­ing before the hunt opens, announc­ing the arrival of the main play­ers on the scene, the hunters and the deer. "Lis­ten" is a com­mand as much as an invi­ta­tion. It takes a spe­cial kind of courage to sound that horn, in Iran, but not only in Iran.

Listen © New sha Tavakolian

The call is answered too, over the past years by var­i­ous nom­i­na­tions, awards and acqui­si­tions. Quite recently her work was part of the For­mat fes­ti­val in Derby, which led to a pub­li­ca­tion in the lat­est issue of 8 Mag­a­zine, "Dis­cover Islam". As part of Rawiya, the new female pho­tog­ra­phers col­lec­tive from the Mid­dle East, "Lis­ten" will be pre­sented at the MENASART fair in Beirut in July. I wish I were free to say: “I hope to see it a resound­ing suc­cess”, but my role as the cura­tor of this pro­gram makes me sus­pi­ciously and inex­cus­ably non-partial.

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