Senses Cultural’s newest exhibition, Enduring Power: The Middle Eastern and Iranian Women’s Story, opened last month at UC Davis’ Alumni Center to a great response. This powerful exhibition tells stories of the Middle Eastern and Iranian woman’s struggles, hopes, and strengths through 44 photographs from 7 female photographers. On display only until November 30th, 2014 at this location, curator Sina Araghi shares his hopes for the future of this collection, as well as some insight on the process of curating the exhibition.
A portion of a conversation between Iranian journalist, Mr. Abolhassan Mokhtabad, and Mr. Sina Araghi, exhibition curator:
Sina, how long have you been involved with this project?
I met with Mrs. Monfared of Senses Cultural in Dubai in April of 2014 and we discussed the overall concept behind this show. We began planning for it shortly after.
How did you invite the photographers for this show, and did you have a specific goal in mind? How did you communicate with the Iranian photographers?
We knew we wanted to showcase a collection by female photographers from the Middle East, so we were looking for photographers who currently live and work in the region. I had one photographer in mind, and she in turn introduced me to a photo collective of female Middle Eastern photographers – two of whom are featured in our exhibition. Some of the Iranian photographers were recommended through Mrs. Monfared and the network of artists that are part of the Senses Cultural community. Others were recommended by and coordinated through the tireless work of Hamideh Zolfaghari in Tehran, who is also one of our exhibiting photographers.
Why only female photographers?
Due to the various cultural, religious, and political environments of the Middle East, the perspective we were trying to achieve can only be achieved through the lens of a female photographer. Men simply do not have the access nor the insight to tell the Middle Eastern woman’s story. A female photographer has far greater access – and clearly a better understanding – to tell these stories.
Did you select any photographers that are not from the region?
From the very start our goal was to work with local photographers for this project in hopes of conveying a more authentic and insightful story of the women from this part of the world. It was important for us that the stories be told by women who are part of the fabrics of the societies that they portrayed. A story of women, by women – a story of Middle Easterners, by Middle Easterners.
Did you have an American audience’s interests in mind for this exhibition?
Yes, from the beginning we approached this project with an American audience in mind. We hoped to shed light on Middle Eastern women to viewers who may be unaware of what their daily life is like, and how it may be different from what is perceived or assumed. It was possible through the talented storytellers in this show.
What’s your own view on the 44 images that were selected for the show?
As far as the overall critique and experience of the show is concerned, I leave that to the viewer to decide. Our goal was to showcase the strength and identity of the Middle Eastern woman and I believe that we succeeded in offering a glimpse into that world. I’m proud of the collection of work that we’ve presented here, and have personally learned quite a bit from the stories that these women have shared with us. As you might notice, the image of men and their presence plays a very small role in these images. The women in these stories and photographs are accomplishing their goals on their volition and fortitude.
Do you think you’ll be able to exhibit this work in other universities in CA and the United States?
This show has a lot of potential for gaining further exposure, and Senses Cultural has the intention to take the exhibition to other universities and cultural centers across the US.
Senses Cultural believes that presenting thought-provoking images from the Middle East and Iran to audiences in the United States promotes a healthy discussion and brings greater cross-cultural understanding. Using the language of photography, this exhibition speaks to the struggles and stories that are specific to the Middle Eastern woman – literacy, freedom of expression, religion, and gender roles. Their stories are inspiring and moving, making Enduring Power a beautifully powerful exhibition. With a strong start at UC Davis, Enduring Power is ready to bring these stories to a broader audience.
Do you know a campus or venue that might be interested in hosting this exhibition? Interested in the exhibition’s 2015 showing schedule? Please contact Senses founder, Tata Monfared (Tata@sensescultural.com) or exhibition curator, Sina Araghi (Sina@sensescultural.com). Or, connect with Senses through Facebook and Twitter for updates and news.
For portions of this article in farsi, please click here.
Written by Silvana Gargione