“I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” —Rumi
The Tehran-based photographer, Newsha Tavakolian’s, conceptual series “Listen” and “The Day I Became a Woman” are now on exhibit at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This series focuses on Iranian professional female singers who have been unable to perform solo or to produce their own music since the revolution in 1979. Tavakolian brought these singers to a private studio, and filmed/photographed them performing in front of a chintzy ‘70’s-era backdrop to an imaginary audience. The power of the series lies in the absence, the silence of their passionate performances. In “The Day I Became a Woman,” Tavakolian explores the rite of passage for young muslim girls, who at age 9, transition into women in the faith.
In addition to the portraits of singers, Tavakolian also created these fictional CD covers (which metaphorically remain empty) that portray her own interpretation of Iranian society. Tavakolian writes, “For me a woman’s voice represents a power that if you silence it, imbalances society and makes everything deformed. The project ‘Listen’ echoes the voice of these silenced women. I let Iranian women singers perform through my camera while the world has never heard them.” For anyone interested in hearing more from Tavakolian, here is a brief video interview.
Like Shadi Ghadirian and other contemporaries, female Iranian photographers prove that despite the odds, contradictions, constraints, and milieu in which they work, there is always hope for art. Sometimes what is not said is the most important thing to hear. —Lane Nevares