GOHAR DASHTI Profile – guest edited by Kelly Carmichael
The latest in a series of innovative residencies sees Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti head to Bradford in the north of England for four weeks from late January 2011. Part of Visiting Arts’ 1mile² (www.square-mile.net) programme, her residency is supported by City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council and DCMS. While in residence at Impressions Gallery, Dashti will collaborate with ecologist Charlie Gray and lead a photographic mapping project with Bradford’s local community.
An ambitious project reconsidering the traditional residency format, 1mile² exemplifies Visiting Arts’ commitment not only to intercultural dialogue but also to pioneering new practice and methods of creative collaboration within interdisciplinary practices. 1mile² enables artists and ecologists to collaborate on issues of biodiversity, sustainability and community and moves beyond solitary or studio-based practice towards a residency defined by place. 1mile² is internationally focused and has already connected communities in Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, South Africa and the UK with further communities participating in Canada and UAE in 2011. The programme invites artists to work with an ecologist and lead activities and events for local people within a square mile, engaging participants in an investigation of their communities, cultures and environment. The resulting dialogue and knowledge sharing generated by the diverse professional, cultural and geographic communities involved seeks to increase an understanding of our connected local and global environments.
Recent political demonstrations and a pugnacious stance regarding the development of a nuclear programme have brought Iran firmly into the international media and general consciousness of many. However it is the eruption of protest on the streets of Tehran along with the strong emergence of Iranian artists on to the contemporary art scene that has brought a new Iran to our attention. These two factors have helped tear the lid off of Western stereotypes and revealed a more complex place, an Iran that is richly historic with a vibrant and highly accomplished culture where citizens – including women – speak with compelling and striking boldness. Gohar Dashti is part of this new wave, a storyteller of social and cultural issues, and about to turn her lens on Bradford.
Gohar Dashti’s practice explores people – their private selves and public lives – in her native Iran. Unsurprisingly, growing up in the rich, complex and rigorous culture of Iran, not to mention its turbulent recent past, has had a major effect on Dashti’s practice and development as an artist. Her work is a mirror of the rigid regulations and complex social issues of post-revolution Iran and it is individuals and everyday events that characterize her work. Dashti has previously commented that “people’s lives have a special place in my photographs and research projects and I collect photographs that ordinary people have taken in various settings”. Her photographs reveal the scars of her generation’s war torn childhood and confront issues of gender, secularism and religious tradition in contemporary Iran. In the 2008 series ‘Today’s Life and War’ Dashti questions how the violence of war symbolically impacts the life and collective memory of her generation. How, although these times have past, their caustic echo and impact is never far from young peoples’ consciousness. With muted colour, strong composition and conspicuous bunkers, tanks and barbed wire, the images are loaded and also anticipatory – like a single chapter or still from a film that make us want to know the entire work. There is a distinctly cinematic feel about them, a poetry of incongruity and loss. Staged with the elaborate attention to detail of a fashion or lifestyle magazine shoot, the images in this series combine mundane moments of a young couple’s life, such as a meal or watching television, with locations and props better suited to armed conflict. As the artist explains “growing up in war time… makes my generation live with the fear that one day we might again get into war. We are constantly living with war in Iran…everything reminds us of war, it is part of our everyday existence.”