by Cecilia Mencia
Women hanging handkerchiefs on barbwire. Lovers picnicking in a war-zone surrounded by helmets. A couple sitting in a dilapidated car on their wedding day. These are some of the images that Iranian photographer, Gohar Dashti, created for her series entitled Today’s Life and War. She grew up during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) in a town near the Iranian border, where warfare was routine and civilians were caught in constant conflict.
Her native Iran is her narrative where she explores the impact of war on its citizens and contemporary society. Her images reflect on its history, societal identity, revolution, topography (volcanoes, specifically) and feminism. They speak to the impact on every man, woman and child and juxtaposes imagery of daily life and war. Nature is usually the backdrop in most of her series which represents a refuge where the sky and mountains are a sanctum.
Working in series, Dashti explores the identity of middle eastern women in society caught between modernization and traditional Islamic construct. Dashti’s images challenge stereotypes of the people and cultures of Iran and the Arab world. Today’s Life and War exhibited at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. She has seven other series that have exhibited throughout the world. To see more of her images, you can visit gohardashti.com.
In her own words, Gohar Dashti explains how she came to be a photographer and what continues to inspire her.
BFM: Tell me about your personal background and how that influenced the vision for your photography series, “Today’s Life and War?”
Dashti: I was born in the early years of the Islamic Revolution and the first steps of my childhood were during the bloody Iran-Iraq war. My family and I were living in Ahvaz that was near Iraq during war time. I grew up with war. Growing up during the war has taught me and my generation that we are constantly living in danger. Everything is a reminder of war. The profound impact that war has had on my life and my generation has remained until today. War and life are inseparable from each other; they come along each other, living together simultaneously and in parallel. I was a little girl going to school, birthdays and weddings and other celebrations. On the one-hand things seemed normal, but war had a constant presence in the background — a presence that I couldn’t totally comprehend. When the horrific nature of war becomes normal, it takes on a surreal form. My brother and I, before we were school age, were collecting bullets on the roof of our house. The one that collected the most was the winner of that game. This was a game all the kids I knew played. In many of my childhood memories, I remember being at birthday parties where the sound of war was heard in the distance. People, in those days, were holding their weddings under firing missiles. Today’s Life and War is the narrative image of those days.
BFM: What is the primary message you are trying to convey in your artwork?
Dashti: As an artist, my presentation of the world always begins in the most personal way, with my memories, my sense of my surroundings, my own individual perceptions. I try to express my relationship to society and to the world as it develops from the events of my life and between the poles of the personal and the universal, the political and the fantasized.
BFM: As an artist, who or what inspired your style of art and documentary photography?
Probably, many pictures have inspired me indirectly. A classic painting or a movie, but I suppose some old books namely Dante’s Divine Comedy and One Thousand and One Nights inspired me most in my works.
BFM: How long did it take you to put the series together and what was the process?
Preproduction take a lot of time. Researching ideas and finding locations and models usually takes more than six months. It’s like making a film. Shooting takes about a month. I work with a small team in all of my series. My spouse, Hamed Noori, is an artist and the best advisor for all of my projects.
BFM: How does being a woman influence your artistic and political interpretation?
My gender is part of me and I can’t separate it from my work. But it is not the entire picture. You could see something about women in most of my works.
BFM: What’s your next project and where do you plan to exhibit it?
Currently, I am working on a project about the city I live in and I’ve started researching my next series.
Gohar Dashti received her M.A in Photography from the Fine Art University of Tehran in 2005. She creates artwork using different media such as photography and video. She has participated in several art residencies and scholarships such as DAAD award, UdK Berlin, DE (2009-2011); Visiting Arts (1mile2 project), Bradford/London, UK (2009) and International Arts & Artists (Art Bridge), Washington DC, USA (2008).She has held various exhibitions around the world, shown in many museums, festivals and biennales. Her works are in many collections including Victoria and Albert Museum, London (UK), Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (JP), Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston (USA), Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (USA), National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (USA) and Kadist Art Foundation, Paris (FR).