Newsha Tavakolian was born in Tehran in 1981. She discovers the photographic medium at age of 16 and then embarks on a career of a reporter-photographer. In 1999, she covers the student uprising in Iran and in 2002 the war in Iraq as well as numerous regional conflicts. She managed to establish herself as a photojournalist and collaborates with major magazines such as Newsweek, The New York Times, Stern, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. Her attachment to her country is strong and complex. In 2009, she covers the Iranian presidential election which ended in chaos and led her to temporarily set aside her journalistic photo activity. Her photography slides then towards a more inspiring and eminently poetic form.
Most of her photographic series which are part of this exhibition make the viewer face striking portraits halfway between allegoric figure and a dense presence at the edge of being animated. The beings captured by Newsha Tavakolian are situated in a fragile in-between. In her installations, she works out a sensitive transition by mixing still and animated images.
Listen offers a look at the female singers who don't have the right to sing on stage alone or to release albums because of the Islamic regulations in force since the 1979 revolution in Iran. The photographs are portraits of professional female singers simulating a concert performance in front of a large audience when in reality, the photographs were shooted in a small studio in Tehran. In connection with the portraits, Newsha Tavakolian also imagined and produced a CD cover for each of the singers, providing a personal interpretation of their life experience and the society where they live. But the CD covers will remain empty.
In this work, Tavakolian's attention is focused on an intimate relationship with the individual. The deliberately theatrical and made-out scenes evoke the atmosphere of Hopper's paintings. Tavakolian transforms her own bedroom into a studio where she stages individuals and their belongings. Static, they are facing the goal. In the background, a window looks out on the surrounding neighborhood and its large ensembles. The photographic portraits are assembled in a sequence emphasizing the impersonal nature and the monotonous repetitiveness of the scenes. In the continuation of this series there is a reproduction of the urban landscape of a very large format, seen through the window. As viewers, we find ourselves in the same space as the photographed subjects do. They are still present in filmed sequences which are diffused on screens applied on the very large image of window looking out on large ensembles. The installation plays with the mechanisms of gaze and subjectivity. There is an interaction between the viewer and the one who is being viewed, each becoming voyeur and observed turn by turn. The subjects, be it the ones of the films or of the photographs, seem to be doomed to paralysis and immobility.
SOFT SHOULDERS, HARD BOOTS : THE WOMEN FIGHTERS OF FARC
On the 26th of November 2016, the FARC (Revolutionary armed forces of Colombia) signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government, ending fifty years of conflict. For the first time since their founding, the Marxist guerrillas can get out of the lawlessness. As part of this agreement and within six following months, the rebels are engaged to implement their demobilization. This radical change destabilizes many FARC members, accustomed to their guerrilla existence since a long time and who do not know what a peaceful life will bring them. In January 2017, Newsha Tavakolian travelled to the most remote parts of the jungle of the Cauca Department, the region where the FARC operated for a long time. While photographing the very beginning of their transition to civilian life, she was able to talk with a large number of rebel women. She recorded their stories about the reasons for their involvement in the FARC and their feelings about their new life.
BLANK PAGES OF AN IRANIAN PHOTO ALBUM
Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album (2014-2015) is a series of artworks based on family albums of Tehran friends of Newsha Tavakolian, six of them are presented. These albums contained numerous happy childhood stories, in particular the ones of idealized and festive moments like anniversaries or family parties. However, in each of these albums, the memory collection seemed to have been interrupted and marked by a moment which put an end for the albums, leaving most of its pages virgin and intact. The blank pages are the metaphor for the unfulfilled dreams. The silences in these biographical narratives are the starting point of Tavkolian's work. From there, she follows every personnage day by day and documents the scenes of their daily life. The first image of each series is a reproduction of a photograph found in the original album. The following images mirror the ordinary and everyday realities of life in Tehran. The albums extended in this way subvert the dreams of an idyllic childhood, disconnected from the reality of the present time. In addition, the subjects are brought to life in sequences filmed at the top of a hill in Tehran, where they remain motionless, as if they were frozen in a moment suspended in time.
IRAN WALLS (2009–2015)
The series presents photographs covering the spectrum of Tavakolian's work, starting from the signature ones - the staged portraits (issued from the series Portraits d’Iran, published online by the New York Times) - to reports about street scenes - the ones of manifestations or of jubilations - or else about a military exercise commemorating the anniversary of the often forgotten Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) in November 2015 where a million of people lost their lives.
Under the command of Ocalan, a charismatic leader, a group of Kurdish women soldiers is engaged into the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and in the historical region of Greater Syria. A colourful scarf is all that remains of Cicek Derek who was 17 when she died in the besieged city of Kobani in Syria a few months ago. Her compatriots were never able to find her body. Cicek was one of hundreds of Kurdish young women soldiers who took up arms against Daesh. These women are part of the Women's Defense Unit (YPJ), an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist movement leading a war of independence against Turkey since a long time.
These are thirty images selected among the first works of Newsha Tavakolian who was sent to Iraq in 2002 to cover the Iraq-Iran conflict as a reporter-photographer.