‘Impressions’ of Iran
Open Shutter exhibits the resolve of Iranian women

Raheleh Zomorodinia hangs her work in the Open Shutter Gallery for “Iranian Impressions,” which opened last Thursday night. The exhibit features Zomorodinia and photographer Maryam Amouzegar and offers a compelling look at the life of Iranian women./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Stew Mosberg

These days anything with Iran in its title is sure to elicit an emotional response. Open Shutter’s new photo exhibit “Iranian Impressions” is no exception.

Iranian photographers Raheleh Zomorodinia and Maryam Amouzegar are the two female artists featured in this show, and once again, the gallery has provided Durango a unique opportunity to experience a poignant display. The show brims with thought-provoking images and a not-so-subtle, compelling commentary on life as an Iranian woman.

The range of photographs gracing the walls at Open Shutter run the gamut from politically motivated to straightforward documentation and clear statements on women’s oppression. Many of Zomorodinia’s expressionistic photos are metaphorical and Zomorodinia, a widely respected and frequently exhibited photographer in her homeland, has shown in Iraq, Canada, Italy, England and the United States. She has worked as a photo journalist for women’s and sports publications for the past 15 years, including Sports Illustrated, the BBC and Sigma, and is also a graphic designer might appear labored, yet others are editorial and journalistic. For the viewer, they are all arresting and, in some cases, disturbing.

In her artist’s statement, Zomorodinia addresses her interest in the organic environment by explaining, “When I’m out there in nature, I feel birth, life and death, which are reflected inseparably in my final creation.”

One series of images integrates carefully carved square frames in the sand and snow; clear evidence of human intervention, but beyond that, their meaning is obscure. That same obfuscation occurs in Zomorodinia’s staged photos of fully wrapped, mummy-like figures positioned in and outdoors. They, too, are fascinating and disconcerting allegories.

The diversity of work in this exhibition could easily be from more than two photographers, and it is worth seeing just to appreciate the range. Visitors to the gallery could easily come away with a few of the images etched in their mind and will likely ponder the significance long after stepping back onto Main Avenue.

Sharing the exhibit space with Zomorodinia is Maryam Amouzegar, who has worked closely with women’s sports teams in and outside of Iran.

Iranian women have overcome many obstacles to get where they are today, and Amouzegar has dedicated her professional career to the enhancement of women’s sports in Iran.

“Destruction of Nature, Destruction of Human Being,” a 2009 photograph by Raheleh Zomorodinia, is among the many works currently on display at the Open Shutter Gallery./Courtesy photo

She has organized three international exhibitions to demonstrate the resolve and talent of Iranian women in diverse sporting events and hopes that such exhibits will advance Iranian women’s athletics around the globe.

The most telling aspect of the sports images in this show is the clothing the Iranian athletes wear. In spite of the encumbrance, the women overcome the obstacles and successfully compete and do win medals. Such achievements have given Iranian women higher social standing today. One of those pictures, Amouzegar’s in-your-face image of an Iranian woman sighting down the barrel of a target rifle, is chilling and reflects more than the sporting event it chronicles.

There are more than a few quixotic images among the small-format, unframed photos. One of Zomordinia’s photos depicts a woman clad in white, standing near the surf and being doused with what could be blood. The image simultaneously invites and repels the viewer. A companion image portrays a woman being drenched with water and cloaked in what appears to be a foliage shroud. This, too, is provocative, but begs for further explanation. Accompanying a few of the works are poems offering a glimpse into the images’ meaning and the artists’ intent. The photos in this exhibit are so much alike in subject and presentation it is hard to determine, without looking at their descriptions, whether they were done by Amouzegar or Zomorodinia.

In marked contrast to the archery, shooting, soccer and track events are macro-shots of organic subject matter. A close-up of an embellished leaf, for example, struggles for the viewer’s attention when seen alongside the easily comprehended prints of fully clothed competitors. Amouzegar and Zomorodinia make for an interesting pairing, and it is reason enough for showing the two photographers side-by-side.

Regarding the body of work and subject matter, some might wonder if Durango is the best place for such an exhibit. By way of explanation, Open Shutter associate Brandon Donahue said, “I think that Durango is a very politically and culturally evolved town. The people here are excited to be exposed to new cultures and ideas, and I think the show is very much in that same spirit.”

In spite of adverse weather conditions, a great many people have taken in the newly opened exhibit. Donahue noted, “Everybody that has made it in to see the show has seemed to enjoy it. They have lots of questions, and that’s what has been so interesting – learning something new about a country and culture that most people don’t know a whole lot about.”

Zomorodinia presented a lecture to a standing-room only crowd at the Open Shutter on Saturday evening, and prior to the gathering reiterated her motive for choosing photography as a medium. “After many years taking photos I have chosen (photography) to express my views and ideas,” she said. “For me, traveling is unavoidable, and that’s where I get most of my subjects including nature. Being in different places has helped me create many different works, and the importance of the location can be seen in them.”

Such exhibitions of international artists are genuine gifts to the community that Open Shutter Gallery provides on a regular basis. Like its predecessors, “Iranian Impressions” delivers the goods. •

 

 

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