Recreating gruesome reality of Iran’s past through the lens of the present
Iranian photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi recreates gruesome scenes through staged photograph from Iran’s history to give viewers a glimpse into the country’s atrocious past.
Iran has witnessed assassinations and murders of many students, politicians, filmmakers, artists, writers and others, who threatened the establishment in the past and most of these deaths occurred under mysterious circumstances. And that’s what intrigued Iranian filmmaker and photographer, Azadeh Akhlaghi, to take up staged photography, where she has recreated some of those scenes poetically in her frames.
Akhlaghi, whose works cover the turbulent history of the nation with a bloody past, says, “I was very interested in Arab Spring and what happened in Iran.” The series has 17 panorama works from 1908 to 1998 and is titled By An Eyewitness. It also features Akhlaghi wearing a red scarf in the background — to signify that she acts as an eyewitness in these assassinations.
Perhaps her interest partly sprouted from her experience as a journalist, which she feels has helped her greatly with research for her projects — some of which took her more than four years. “I have used many journalistic pictures for references and also paintings, apart from interviewing witnesses,” says the artist who cites the main influence behind these projects to be literature.
Akhlagi says, “I started to read as much as I could. I did extensive archival research, read many foreign newspapers and also spoke to those related to the victims.” She adds, “I wanted to make sure that I knew all the details before beginning.”
It was only after putting in laborious efforts that she began recreating those scenes. She would try to replicate the same atmosphere by employing actors and using different locations. Sometimes, she also uses people who were present at the actual events for her scenes.
In one of her works, for instance, she recreated the military shooting that took place at Tehran University which left three students dead. The event took place on December 7, 1953, when the university students were protesting American vice president, Richard Nixon’s visit. Akhlaghi has captured students and staff running hither thither, and a few dead bodies lie in the corridor and in front of the staircase. On Student Day, this tragic event is still remembered in Iran every year.
Akhlaghi’s subjects include not only mysterious deaths but natural deaths of popular Iranian figures as well. Some of the images have been created by fusing three images into one. In spite of that, the action seems to be in sync with the theme throughout the frames.
The action in these staged events subtly affects the viewer’s conscience. These works might not be veridical, but Akhlagi’s ability to keep the reality intact through light, movements and expressions is nevertheless admirable and which is also evident from the sense of grief that pervades these works.
Her works are on display at Art Heritage Gallery, Delhi. The exhibition is on till November 14.
Catch It Live
What: Staging the Past
Where: Art Heritage Gallery, 205, Triveni Kala Sangam, Tansen Marg, Mandi House
On till: November 14
Timings: 11am to 7pm
Nearest Metro Station: Mandi House on Blue Line and Violet Line