Curator Statement from Sina Araghi

Enduring Power: The Middle Eastern and Iranian Woman’s Story is a collection of work by seven female photographers from Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran, examining the lives and livelihoods of women in that region.

Apart from their exceptional photographic work, these photographers were selected in great part due to their diverse coverage of topics regarding women, spanning across many different countries throughout the Middle East.

Peering behind the veil and headscarves to reveal real individuals is a delicate but necessary boundary to push. It is so vital to the future and progress of women in these cultures to be seen succeeding, thriving, and discovering – all on their own. Whether they are generations apart or contemporaries, progress is achieved when women grow and improve on their own terms, separate from the male influence that so strongly permeates their public culture and the worldwide media. There is an almost constant push/pull between the individualized and powerful identity of the Middle Eastern woman, and the attempts by culture and government to erase that identity.

This collection of images illustrate how that sense of identity has not been erased. This collection is a celebration of the progress and growth that has happened, and a tangible foreshadowing of what is still to come.

The division of gender throughout daily life creates two very different worlds within the same culture. The photographic perspective in this exhibition is unique to women who are inside these cultures and countries. These 7 photographers are not outsiders, tourists, or just passing through, and the familiarity and camaraderie felt between ‘insiders’ is tangible in these photographs. Being a female photographer creates uniquely privileged access into the lives and experiences of the Middle Eastern woman – access into a world that men seldom are privy to. Respecting this access while still honoring the truth in moments witnessed requires grace and trust. There is fragility in that access. As an Iranian male photographer, I admire this perspective, knowing full well the limitations and privileges of my own gender.

Collectively, these photographs speak of the greater issues of identity and resilience, and the strength of women within these regions. They are empowering themselves – against all obstacles – through their own will. A clear defiance and sense of individuality is present (an especially sacred quality in a world of appearance commonality), and there is no apologizing for any of it. These women are not weak or afraid. They are resilient, powerful, and energized. They command your attention and your interest.

Let their stories be heard.

-Sina Araghi, curator


Mother,Daughter, Doll series by Boushra Almutawakel


Iranian photographers Hamideh Zolfaghari and Maryam Saeedpoor


Photography of Razan Alzayani (Bahrain) and Sara Sasani (Iran)
I Read, I Write series by Laura Boushnak
Photography from Boushra Almutawakel and Hagar Sobeea

by Silvana Gargione


Enduring Power exhibition sparks round table discussion

Senses Cultural’s newest exhibition, Enduring Power: the Middle Eastern and Iranian Woman’s Story, opened Oct 15th, 2014 in Davis, CA. These 44 images from 7 female photographers, curated by photographer Sina Araghi, were met with a great response of attendees. The reception also included a round-table dialogue led by keynote speaker Samina Ali. The opening reception, hosted by Senses Cultural founder Tata Monfared, was held at the University of California at Davis, at the UC Davis Alumni Center.

There were many notable academics and guests present at Wednesday’s opening, bringing great observations and insight to the round table discussion. Keynote speaker Samina Ali posed the simple but thought-provoking question, “what first comes to mind when you think of a Middle Eastern, Muslim or Iranian woman?” As an activist and artist herself, she easily spoke on the matters and themes that were present in the photographs of Enduring Power, and lead the discussion that followed her speech.


Ms. Delaine Eastin, former Superintendent of Education for California, noted that “when women are permitted to fully participate in the decision making for their society, there is a fundamental shift in values.” She notes that the emphasis shifts to focus on preschool through higher education, caring for the elderly, and the family unit. This all begins, she states, “simply with education.” Her reflections were personal and honest, revealing “I was the first person in my family to complete higher education, and it changed my life entirely.”

Natasha Owen, of the Honoree council of the Russian Federation of Sacramento, provided wonderfully insightful and intelligent contributions to the discussion as well. She observed that “we go through our days like ostriches – to the grocery store, to the pool, out to dinner. We often forget of the cost we pay worldwide to be a woman.”

The discussion also heard comments from about a dozen other attendees with their reactions to the photography and Ms. Ali’s question, including board member and professor Randi Hagerman, and photographer Paul Maska.


This roundtable discussion was fueled by the powerful works of Razan Alzayani, Laura Boushnak, Boushra Almutawakel, Hagar Sobeea, Hamideh Zolfaghari, Maryam Saeedpoor, and Sara Sasani. These talented women hail from Iran, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Kuwait, and presented powerful stories of education, individuality, familial relationships, societal restraints, and bold bravery. Their photographs have appeared in many publications and received dozens of awards, and collectively were a stunning look into the struggles and victories of women in the Middle East and Iran.


Enduring Power: The Middle Eastern and Iranian Woman’s Story will be on display at UC Davis’ Alumni Center until November 30th.


For coverage of this story in Farsi, please visit our Farsi language website by clicking here 

written by Silvana Gargione

Art Dubai 2014: Another Year, Another Resounding Success!

Over the last seven years, Art Dubai, the leading international art fair in the MENASA (Middle East/North Africa/South Asia), has become a cornerstone of the region’s booming contemporary art community. Recognized as one of the most globalized meeting points in the art world today, Art Dubai places an emphasis on maintaining its intimate, human scale while foregrounding quality and diversity.
In 2013, Art Dubai welcomed 25,000 visitors–including 75 international museums groups–and hosted 75 galleries from 30 countries.

The eighth edition of Art Dubai takes place March 19-22, 2014, at Madinat Jumeirah. Besides the gallery halls, the fair’s extensive program includes commissioned projects and performances, artists’ and curators’ residencies, radio and film, an exhibition of new works by winners of the annual The Abraaj Group Art Prize and the critically acclaimed Global Art Forum.

In 2014, the fair features more than 85 gallery spaces from 34 countries–from the world’s most established to dynamic young art spaces. In addition to the Contemporary halls, Art Dubai launches a new program devoted to modern art from the Middle East and South Asia. Art Dubai Modern includes eleven galleries, each presenting a solo or two-person show by modern masters.

Shirin Gallery in Tehran, Iran was selected for the Modern hall. Shirin Gallery is committed to establishing an international context for the broad range of contemporary art practices within Iran and its surrounding regions. The gallery’s current programming is focused on the historical link between Iran’s modernist movements and contemporary art practices today. With branches in New York and Tehran, Shirin Gallery exists as a transnational platform for curatorial and pedagogical projects that foster artistic activity and exchange among emerging and established artists. In Tehran, the gallery exhibits its permanent collection showcasing respected Iranian artists as well as presenting bi-weekly exhibitions by upcoming talents and established artists. Shirin NY, located in the Chelsea Gallery District, furthers Shirin Gallery’s commitment to cultural exchange by exhibiting the Middle East’s rich artistic history within the US.

The exhibiting artist at Art Dubai representing Shirin Gallery is Ardeshir Mohassess, an Iranian illustrator and cartoonist, who lived in New York until 2008, when he passed away.

Mohassess pushed the art of the cartoon to almost surrealist satire and stylistic references to ancient art forms. Throughout his career, he remained a resolute social critic, focusing on the cruelty, humor, and vulnerability of human nature.

(website for images:

Gallery Etemad of Tehran, Iran was selected for the Contemporary hall. Established in 2002, Etemad Gallery seeks to showcase regional and international artists and is committed to promoting a wide range of emerging and established artists practicing in varied techniques and forms, from figurative to abstract minimalism. Etemad Gallery’s program has a highly curatorial approach, reflected in the gallery’s exhibitions which highlight the diversity and depth of many selected artists.

Six artists from Gallery Etemad will be exhibiting at Art Dubai: Shahriar Ahmadi, Mohsen Ahmadvand, Morteza Ahmadvand, Abbas Kiarostami, Mehrdad Mohebali, and Ramtin Zad.

(Please find images for Shahriar and Ramtin in their websites, which I’ve linked to their names).

Leila Pazooki is also represented by Gallery Etemad. The concept of “borders” is a recurring backdrop and common thread through all her projects. Her visual explorations include the strategies of multi-layering and partial elimination of “illicit” images, mingling the “borders” of “tolerable” and “forbidden” figurative representations. In her recent works Pazooki continues the research in the realm of media, questioning the validity or reliability of the messages that cross the “borders.”

(her website, which I’ve linked to her name, has images)

Art Dubai is held under the Patronage of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai.
Art Dubai Ladies’ Day is held under the patronage and guidance of Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Women’s Establishment, Wife of HH Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, UAE


Senses CEO Tata Monfared visits Sharjah Art Exhibition

Senses CEO Tata Monfared visits Sharjah Art Exhibition and meets Foundation’s President, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi.

In the course of her month-long visit to the Middle East, Tata has had the opportunity to connect with many influential artists, patrons of the arts and art foundation officials from the region.  One such important visit has been to the Sharjah Art Foundation’s March Meeting 2014 in the United Arab Emirates, and meeting with the Foundation President, Her Royal Highness Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi. 

Her Royal Highness Sheikha, president of the Sharjah Arts Foundation since 2009, attended the WOIBEX Conference in Dubai where Tata had the opportunity to meet her. Sheikha Hoor’s mission is to strengthen the cultural and economic ties between Sharjah and the international art community. She herself has had much experience in this arena being an artist herself and the curator of international exhibits in Germany, Switzerland, and Sharjah. She is also on the Board of the MOMA and lives and works in both London and Sharjah.    

At the exhibition, Sheikha Hoor highlighted the vital importance of Sharjah’s arts and culture sector and spoke about the growing success of the Sharjah Biennial. She also discussed some of the foundation’s initiatives to enhance international partnerships, such as residencies, production grants, commissions, and exhibitions.  The core mission of the Foundation and Senses are similar: both believe in the central role art can play in the life of a community by promoting public learning and both promote a participatory approach to art.

The March Meeting 2014 that Tata is currently attending examines several pertinent issues in contemporary culture, addressing institutional formation, exhibitions, and artistic production as well as consideration of how to develop education and research initiatives. The meeting is also an exciting point of departure for Sharjah Biennial 12, incorporating commissioned artists to shape a context for their as yet unimagined projects. In addition to presentations, MM 2014 will feature case studies, collective research and evaluation sessions, and moderated, informal discussions at the end of each day, to promote the active participation of all in attendance.