Walk On My Eyes

Maryam, 33 (on the left), a single mother and painter, teaches art and art history at a high school in Tehran. All her students are girls aged fourteen to eighteen. ‘Girls today are cleverer than in my generation,’ she says. ‘They know what they want and they demand their rights.’ She lets her students remove their headscarves in class and pushes the boundaries of the Islamic dress code for her live classes. ‘In most classes, models have to wear a headscarf and manteau (a sort of house coat). I let them pose in a t-shirt and trousers. I got in a bit of trouble for it.’ Pictured here with her mother, Maryam is part of a close family. ‘I have six brothers and sisters. When my father died my brothers took over his hardware store. We spend all our free time together at my mother’s house. It’s good but it can get claustrophobic.’ Photo by Paolo Woods

Maryam, 33 (on the left), a single mother and painter, teaches art and art history at a high school in Tehran. All her students are girls aged fourteen to eighteen. ‘Girls today are cleverer than in my generation,’ she says. ‘They know what they want and they demand their rights.’ She lets her students remove their headscarves in class and pushes the boundaries of the Islamic dress code for her live classes. Pictured here with her mother. Photo by Paolo Woods

In 2005, when President Ahmadinejad was elected, I started a project on the Iranian society. I felt that with the arrival of this populist and extremist president, the divide between how the West viewed Iran and the country I knew was growing at a very fast pace.

I thus set out to portray a society that is more vast, human and intricate than the stereotypes weighing it down since the Islamic Revolution. I started to investigate the Iranian psyche and national identity through the prism of single individuals. I am particularly drawn by the theatricality and the complexity of the Iranian society— the profound religiousness of the Iranians in spite of the regime’s cynical use of religion; the constant clash between modernity and tradition, often within the same person; the obsessive research of personal success in a system dominated by collective values, in which sufferance is upheld as a value. I want to show that the Iranians can be surprising, droll, audacious, insolent and unsatisfied. As a consequence they are not a homogeneous block, as the regime would like us to believe.

I have worked against the backdrop of important political events: the emerging of Iran as a nuclear and regional power; the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution; the fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad; the birth of the Green Movement and its violent repression.

It is at this precise moment, when Iran finds itself geographically and strategically in the middle of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the cause of much tension between the US, China and Russia, that a closer, more intimate look to its people becomes important.

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