Fact and Fiction Intertwine in the Thought-Provoking Works of Two Iranian Photographers at MFA Boston

  • BOSTON, Massachusetts
  • /
  • January 07, 2020

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Untitled, from the Home series, Gohar Dashti, 2017
Untitled from the Image of Imagination, Black and White series, Bahman Jalali, Iran, 2002-2008

Reimagining Home: Photographs by Bahman Jalali and Gohar Dashti juxtaposes the work of pioneering Iranian photographer Bahman Jalali (1944-2010) with his student, Gohar Dashti (b. 1980), at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from January 11th to July 12th, 2020. The two Iranian artists meld documentation with imagination in innovative ways to weave together themes of belonging, displacement, cultural history and memory. 

In images from the collection of Azita Bina and Elmar Seibel, these two photographers of different generations share a rich history—as Iranians, as teacher and student, and as artists with deep knowledge of documentary photography. The featured works reveal that the artists also shared a strategy: incorporating surreal, fictive elements powered by their imaginations into their work, as a response to the political, social, and cultural changes they witnessed.

Untitled, from the Home series, Gohar Dashti, 2017

Jalali is well known for his pioneering photographs of war and revolution and his dedication to preserving Iran’s photographic history, and his legacy also endures through his work as a teacher. He mentored Dashti in the early 2000s, while he was creating the Image of Imagination series, featured in this exhibition. Produced from the layering of historical photographs of Iranian people and places, these visual juxtapositions pose questions about Iran’s cultural history, especially its archetypes of men and women. Also on view is Dashti’s Home series, made in 2017, which uses abandoned buildings in the Iranian city of Mashhad as backdrops for staged natural landscapes. Home documents contemporary experience while blurring the boundary between reality and fiction, presenting the artist’s musings on belonging, displacement, and refuge.

By displaying the series side by side, the exhibition illuminates how the artists’ personal relationship and common experiences resulted in two visually distinct but nevertheless deeply connected sets of work. Combining documentary with imaginary elements, the artists evoke the transformation of history into memory. The exhibit invites visitors to contemplate how each of us negotiates the passage of time—how images and memories, rather than facts, guide us as we form our understandings of the world.

Tags: photography

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