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

 

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Mother,Daughter, Doll series by Boushra Almutawakel

 

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Iranian photographers Hamideh Zolfaghari and Maryam Saeedpoor

 

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Photography of Razan Alzayani (Bahrain) and Sara Sasani (Iran)
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I Read, I Write series by Laura Boushnak
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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.

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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.

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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

Thank You, from Founder Tata Monfared

We just celebrated the opening of “Enduring Power, “ the exhibition of Middle Eastern women photographers last night, Wednesday October 15, at UC Davis Alumni Center with great participation from family, fans and friends.

For this exhibition and for the very first time, we collaborated with women artists and their media organizations in the Middle East in bringing together the collection of work with their stories. The pictures represent stories about lives of women captured in moments through the clear lenses of these photographers’ cameras. These photographers illustrate the lives and surroundings of women in their communities.

As the executive director of Senses Cultural, it is my honor to present this truly collaborative project by illuminating the creativity of women artists in Middle East and sharing their stories with style and intelligence.

I am thankful for the keen participations of a number of high executives and professional women and men in support of this monumental educational art project. I was thrilled to hear their positive views and feedback around the friendly conversations at the conference room after hearing a talk presented powerfully by our keynote speaker , Samina Ali.

We enjoyed listening to insights form Ms. Delaine Eastin, former California Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a powerful force behind women raising their professional status through education. We also heard supportive feedback from other individuals and UC Davis professors. Professors included our honoree board member Professor Randi Hagerman and the heartfelt observations of Ms. Natalia Owen from the Honoree Council of The Russian Federation in Sacramento. Their interviews and observations will be posted on our blog soon.

Thanks to the entire team of senses contributors for their commitment and hard work in making this Exhibition possible.

I am humbled by the help and dedication of Sina Araghi, the exhibit curator, and for all the hard work and coordination he has offered working with the Senses Cultural team.

It is our great pleasure to have the talented journalist and column writer, Mr. Abolhasan Mokhtabad, with our team as his capable coordination and communications have helped Senses cultural expand their possibilities in a great scale.

My special thanks to Hamideh Zoulfaghari, our world Gold Winner Iranian woman photographer, for sharing her works and assisting Senses Cultural in organizing the collection from Iran.

I need to bring thanks to the whole team of senses artists, designers and writers for their dedications and works with us.

My deepest appreciation goes to the wonderful University of Davis, and the Cal Aggie Alumni Center directors, who assisted us in a keen and organized manner.

Thanks to all of you for your participation yesterday and in the upcoming days, and for bringing support to our mission of building bridges between cultures and to bring more understandings to our world.

With your support we will be able to take this exhibition to different universities in California, and beyond.

Thank you,

Tata Monfared, Senses Cultural Founder

Get to know: Photographer Razan Alzayani

Razan Alzayani was sent 3 questions to answer prior to the exhibition, Enduring Power: The Middle Eastern and Iranian Woman’s Story, which opens on Oct 15th at the Buehler Alumni Center at UC Davis .  Her answers are as eloquent, thoughtful and detailed as her visual work.  With a degree from Boston University, an impressive resume and several awards over the last two years, she is a very strong contributor to this exhibition.

Razan has been working in the Gulf region as a visual storyteller for over five years, continually enjoying the interplay of working with still and video mediums. She currently works as a video journalist for a major news-wire based in Dubai. Prior to that, Razan worked as a multimedia producer and later as a staff photojournalist for The National Newspaper based in Abu Dhabi. She has a passion for issues that involve women and communities that are often misrepresented or that are hard to access.

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Q: What aspect of photos are you most connected to?

Razan: I am most connected to the photographs that show the quiet moments in between, those that relay the brief instances where the subjects are completely relaxed and have either forgotten or chosen to disregard my presence. The memories of those moments and the interaction with the subjects that let me into their lives still strongly resonate with me. I often find myself feeling very attached to those images.

Q:“Enduring Power” is an exhibition bringing the Iranian and Middle Eastern woman’s story to life.  What part of that story do you think is the most important to tell?  What part is the most unexpected?  What part do you relate to the most as a woman?

Razan: Sometimes the most important stories to tell are those that are not in the mainstream media. People often think that as a rule women in the Middle East are oppressed, mistreated and under-represented. To some degree that can be true depending on which specific country is referred to. But it is inaccurate to make statements about an entire gender across a huge region that embodies so many variances in ethnic diversity, law, religion, cultural traditions and values.

In fact, there are more similarities than differences between women in the west and their Middle Eastern counterparts. The path to achieving certain goals can be vastly different, but their dreams, aspirations and achievements are often comparable for the most part. They face difficulties that women in the west have already managed to overcome; and as an Arab woman from the Gulf working alone in what is perceived as a “western” profession, I get heavily-loaded assumptions and questions from people, therefore I can relate to many of these women that are working hard to break out of traditional moulds.

Q: Senses Cultural’s mission statement is: creating a more peaceful and healthy environment for all by fostering understanding through sharing arts and ideas across the globe.  What are a few things you hope to achieve from being part of this exhibition?

Razan: I’m hoping that the images will give people attending the exhibition an opportunity to gain a deeper insight into everyday life in the Middle East. This exhibition is an opportunity to break the paradigms that are constantly perpetuated for the sake of viewer ratings and clicks. Despite the fact that women are seen as living polar opposite lives compared to the western standard of “normal”, they find their own happiness and fulfillment within the realms of their own culture and society just like women anywhere else in the world.

 

For more information and a glimpse of her work, please visit http://razanalzayani.com

 

Silvana Gargione

Get to know: Photographer Hamideh Zolfaghari

Senses Cultural’s upcoming exhibition, Enduring Power: Middle Eastern and Iranian Women’s Story, will open on Oct 15th at the UC Davis Alumni Center.  Photographer Hamideh Zolfaghari is a talented and vital contributor to this exhibition.  A preview of her work can be seen as the featured image for the Enduring Power digital poster, seen here and through social media.

As Hamideh beautifully states, “I wish my pictures to be a testament to the heroism, frustrations, joys, and sorrows of the forgotten”.

Enduring Power Poster

Her contributions to Enduring Power do exactly that. Born and raised in Tehran, Hamideh traveled to California to earn a degree in Creative Photography from San Jose State University.  After graduating she spent several years working in San Francisco, but returned to Iran to continue her career.  In 1989, she participated in the Exhibition in the Museum of Modern Arts in Tehran, an annual event, and won first prize for photography.  This was the first of many showings for Hamideh, including solo and group showings in galleries across France, England, Switzerland and California.   In 1999, she began to work as a photographer for UNICEF.  She has won numerous awards for her work and enjoyed great success over the last 25 years.

As a female photographer in Iran, she “has fought to tell the stories of many that could not express it themselves”.  Her work highlights the extreme contrasts between men and women in the Iranian culture, and draws a link between “the nomadic tribes in Iran and the modern life in Tehran”.  For Hamideh, photography allows her to express the influence the world has on her and the influence she wants to have on the world.  She believes photography as a medium is a tangible reminder that we must understand each other – that we need each other as human beings.

Her travels through Iran’s modern and her understanding of nomadic cultures bring a great depth to her work, and illustrates the beauty of all aspects of life.  As a woman, she readily acknowledges that participating in Enduring Power: Middle Eastern and Iranian Women’s Story allows her to highlight the secret and hidden stories of women, which are often forgotten.

 

Visit http://www.hamidehz.com for more information on Hamideh Zolfarghari.

 

Silvana Gargione

 

heART of IRAN in the State Capitol of California

The month of festivities will feature an exhibition of works by Iranian artists on the first floor of the capital between June 17th and June 23rd, 2012. The exhibit will focus on interpretations of the meaning of peace and human rights for artists in the Iranian-American community. The exhibition looks to break through stereotypes of Iranians as “extremists” or a nation of “mullahs”, established by the depictions of Iranians contained in the popular press and political cartoons. By focusing on the importance of these universal values to the multifaceted Iranian diasporas and the hundreds of thousands of Americans with Iranian heritage, the exhibit intends to educate and share the richness and diversity of the Persian culture with all Californians.