Group 2

Mitra Tabrizian, Teheran 2006, 2006 © Mitra Tabrizian

The 1st at Moderna: Mitra Tabrizian

1.11 2006 – 3.12 2006


The Iranian-British photographer and film director Mitra Tabrizian’s work centres on issues of cultural identity and segregation, often with a clear political angle. She combines documentary techniques with those of film in elaborate photographic tableaux, with the intention of highlighting the ideological mechanisms that constantly feed us with ideals, hierarchies and dreams.

In her most recent works, Mitra Tabrizian has been influenced by the New Wave of Iranian cinema which has transformed Iranian film in the last decade, for example Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1996) and Abbas Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry (1997).

She focuses on depictions of everyday life with “real people”, realistic settings and seemingly trivial events. At the same time, there is always another story, an allegorical level which comments on the situation in Iranian society. This is certainly not a matter of course in a country that is isolated on the world stage, marked by colonialism, revolution and economic sanction.

Tabrizian’s exhibition comprises three parts which also comment on the situation in Iran. The panoramic photograph Tehran 2006 (2006) shows a modern but run down residential area in the outskirts of the gigantic capital. The surroundings betray a society without a working infrastructure, without gardens, street lighting and proper roads. A heterogeneous group of people move about; they are on their way home with their children and their shopping, or they are stroll about in the open space. In the background, we see a network of electric lines – emblematic of modernity and communication. Two ayatollahs overlook everything from an enormous propaganda poster on a hoarding.

The panoramic photograph was intended to be a straightforward and realistic image. All necessary permissions were secured, locals were invited to participate, a setting was chosen and used without any significant alterations. However, in the midst of the dusty suburban commonplace, among evasive looks, concrete, and black chadors, something surreal emerges. It can, for example, be seen in the lustre of a girl’s red shoes, or in the resignation of the taxi driver whose car accidently broke down on set. It is, as in the movies of Swedish film director Roy Andersson, a complex image where every detail is charged with meaning and where there is no apparent centre and no manifest message thrust on the viewer. Instead, a mood is conveyed. An abyss opens up in the alienating distance between the people, the architecture and the landscape.

In her earlier work, London School of Fashion (1986) places the heavy-handed rhetoric of the fashion industry in the spotlight. She established her reputation with The Blues (1986-87), in collaboration with Andy Golding, which focused on stereotypes of race and gender in postcolonial society. In Correct Distance (1990), Tabrizian uses film noir to demonstrate the systematic demonisation of women. Since the end of the 1990s, the subject-matter of her images has become more drastic, while the aesthetic execution has become more polished. In works such as Beyond the Limits (2000), or the futuristic Minimal Utopia (1999), the artist critiques an icy corporate culture where values such as material status and youth overshadow everything else.

Tehran 2006 reflects a nation where ideological and religious tensions are mounting. The second part of the exhibition, the series Border (2006), in collaboration with Andy Golding and Zadoc Nana, deals with the conditions of individuals. In its entirety, Border comprises twelve portraits of people who live in exile for one reason or the other. Every picture is an elaborate mise-en-scène, presenting the subjects as if they were caught in a still of the movie of their lives. Brief accompanying texts provide glimpses of the character’s backgrounds and situations; stories which also say something about the complex political and cultural journey of Iran. Here we find the disillusioned revolutionary, the indomitable soldier, the hardworking intellectual, and others.

The third part, the film Predator (2005), narrows down a similar set of problems. An agent of an unnamed Islamic state is given the job of assassinating an influential writer living in exile in London. However, when the young idealist meets his politically disillusioned compatriot, they seem to have more in common than expected, and he is faced with a tormenting moral dilemma. In a very immediate way, Tabrizian explores the situation of people living in exile, both within and without the borders of their country – a heterogeneous group of individuals in isolated suspense who have nothing to lose. At the same time, she examines the possibilities of art and photography to document reality.

Mitra Tabrizian draws attention to universal conditions. She uses a historical-critical and psychoanalytical line of argument in order to pinpoint a sore spot: in reality, one can never return to an imagined or idealised past. However, this does not necessarily lead to regret or despair. Her images show an unconquerable will to live among people who ought to be the most vulnerable and isolated.

It has been said that survival is an act of resistance. To survive, Mitra Tabrizian retorts, is to maintain the possibility of renegotiating one’s position, to reserve the right to one’s own identity.


Mitra Tabrizian’s film Predator (2005) will be screened in the Cinema on the following Saturdays: Nov 4, 11, 18, 25, and Dec 2, at 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm.