SIMPLY GIRLS – TEENAGERS IN IRAN
September 4 – October 24, 2004
I use my photography to question the role of women under Islam, as well as my own position as an Iranian-American woman. Drawing on my dual identity, I explore issues of oppression, exile, and integration that reflect the position of women as simultaneously inside and outside their respective cultures.
In a larger context this can be seen as the position of women world wide, a struggle between the conflicting demands of cultural and personal identity, specifically the tension between traditional and non-traditional roles for women.
As I explored the notion of difference I saw something emerge in my work that was more than a clash of cultures—it was more like a synthesis, a vibrant cultural pastiche created by the juxtaposition of these seemingly dissimilar worlds. Teenagers as a group are constantly aware of themselves as individuals between cultures. They exist in and partake of the larger adult culture that surrounds them, while participating in another culture exclusive to teens. Teenage years bring a heightened awareness of the body and a new sense of self-consciousness. Teenage girls in particular are extremely focused on matters of appearance and spend a good deal of time trying to create a visual self-image. They eagerly imitate what they see in popular culture drawing on images from magazines, Internet, and TV to express themselves. There is certain theatricality inherent in this adolescent performance and I play this up in my work. Because teens are already invested in the process of self-construction, they take the visual cues I give them and become actively involved in creating the final image.
In the photograph, “Bubble Gum”, the girls are in their intimate space and preoccupied with their self-image. Since they are covered, the viewer gets a chance to peek into the room and observe their mundane life—the details escape and undo any stereotype.
Even though most of these images are staged, I photograph my subjects in their own private spaces, natural environments, and colors. Teenagers are capricious and fanciful. Once, I give them the props, they often create the image themselves. I try to make my camera and myself as transparent as possible. Being young and uninhibited despite their culture and religion is part of being a teenager. This is exactly what I’d like to communicate to my viewers. When I started photographing the young Muslim women in Iran, I thought they would be much more confined and restricted in their attitudes and poses, nevertheless, once in a landscape with no one around them, their body language and their interaction with the landscape was as liberated as any Western teenager. Wearing Hijab or Islamic cover implies submission to a collective identity. However, I believe there is tension between the values of young people and that which the government dictates, between identity and uniformity. This collaborative project has allowed me to show that teens share many of the same characteristics, dreams, and fears.
-Soody Sharifi, 2004
Soody Sharifi, an artist, teacher, and curator based in Houston Texas, was born in Tehran, Iran in 1955. She earned her degrees from the University of Houston – including a BS in Industrial Engineering in 1982 and a MFA in Photography this year. In 2003 the Houston Center for Photography recognized her talent with a HCP Fellowship and in 2004 she was accepted into Columbia’s National Graduate Seminar Fellowship in NYC. Her work has been shown in group exhibits in Houston, Baltimore, and Tucson. This exhibition marks Ms. Sharifi’s second solo show to date, which will be followed by future solo shows lined up through 2006 from Oregon to China, Slovakia to NYC.