Iranian Women Visual Artists – NOW!

Key information

5:30 pm to 7:00 pm
Main Building, SOAS
Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT)

About this event

Since the Islamic Revolution, photography by women has been a barometer of social change in Iran. Shiva Khademi’s portraits of The Smarties – Gen Z women who dye their hair and refuse to wear the hijab – were taken three years before the death of Jina Mahsa Amini sparked nationwide protests. 

The cover of an issue of the Tehran magazine Nadastan, from 2023, featured the rear view of a woman’s full head of curly, dark hair, an image taken by the magazine’s photography editor Mehri Rahminzadeh, who once put pregnancy tests on the magazine’s cover.

Photography is essentially a documentary artform. Yet depictions of real life, or more recently political dissent, are considered dangerous in Iran. The 2009 Green Movement forced Magnum’s Newsha Tavakolian off the streets into the artist’s studio. How do Iranian women photographers do their work; is there a metaphorical visual language on which they rely; and how art and studio photography now disseminate hard ideas that bother the regime?

A world-weary woman wearing a hijab and red boxing gloves stares out from the cover of Breathing Space: Iranian Women Photographers. The boxer is from Tavakolian’s series, Listen, 2010. It is among work by 23 photographers across three generations compiled by Anahita Ghabaian Etehadieh, the curator of Tehran’s first photography gallery, the Silk Road, and published last year by Thames and Hudson.

In an illustrated lecture, Malu Halasa will be presenting and discussing the work of prominent Iranian woman photographers. She will be joined by Sahar Saki, an award-winning international artist and designer, and online by Vali Mahlouji, art historian of the subaltern and founder of the non-profit platform Archaeology of the Final Decade.

Image: From the series The Smarties by Shiva Khademi, Tehran, 2019

About the speaker

Malu Halasa is a writer and critic. She recently edited the anthology Woman Life Freedom: Voices and Art from the Women’s Protests in Iran. She is the co-editor of Kaveh Golestan: Recording the Truth in Iran, with Hengameh Golestan, and Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Influences, with Maziar Bahari.

Sahar Saki is an award-winning international artist and designer from Iran, based in Cardiff, Wales. She has received awards from UNESCO, Business Wales, and the Art Council of Wales, and has also been working with different organisations such as Welsh National Opera, Sherman Theatre, Cop 28, Cardiff Council, and has been exhibiting her works in different galleries around Wales such as The Mission Gallery.

Sahar uses text, calligraphy and bold vibrant colours in her design and gets inspired by cultural and old patterns while she is transforming them in contemporary visual language. Protest art is also a very important aspect in her work as she believes that art is a powerful tool to make changes.

Sahar has been representing her works in the form of mural art during the past couple of years in public places. In 2022, she managed to run a mural festival to amplify the feminist movement in Iran.

Vali Mahlouji is a curator, founder of Archaeology of the Final Decade  (AOTFD), advisor to the British Museum, Bahman Mohassess Estate and director of Kaveh Golestan Estate. Since 2010, the curatorial platform AOTFD has focused on excavating erased and forgotten cultural histories. It recovers and recirculates cultural artefacts that have been subjected to censorship, banned, endangered or deliberately destroyed and has placed artworks in international collections, including Tate Modern, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, The British Museum, Smithsonian Institute, Victoria & Albert Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Mahlouji has curated extensively, including at Asia Culture Centre, SAVVY Contemporary, Whitechapel Gallery, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, MAXXI Museum, Foam Fotografiemuseum, Art Dubai Modern. His upcoming book A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Perspolis is due to be published by Bloomsbury and Afterall Books: Exhibition Histories in 2024.



This event is free to attend, but registration is required. Please note that seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.