Inside out: photographs of the Iranian diaspora
As the country’s youth fight for a place where all Iranians are free to embody their identities, Shahram Saadat photographs the Iranian diaspora for the new issue of THE FACE.
Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.
There is a strange thing that often happens when I tell people I’m Iranian. “Oh, you mean Persian!” they will reply, as if it is 550 BC and even the word “Iran” itself has no place in civilised conversation. This reaction can come from both Iranians and non-Iranians alike, in large part because many Iranians in the West prefer the connotations of “Persia” (the Persian Empire, art and culture, elaborate rugs, miniskirts) than those of “Iran” (Islamic fundamentalism, hostage situations, political repression, women shrouded in long black veils).
This is a false binary, and one that flattens both the history of Iran and the lived experiences of Iranians both inside and outside of the country. Obscured by the glamorous throwback photos of bikini-clad women in pre-revolution Iran is legislation that forbade others from wearing the hijab and a monarchy that attempted to force a programme of Westernisation onto a populace that had little interest in it. Lost from the relentlessly dour, sand-coloured footage we are shown from modern-day Iran is a vibrant, joyful culture and a fearless, youthful population that refuses to be cowed by the brutality and limitations they have inherited.
Outside of our homeland, second-generation Iranians have created our own culture that is as often in thrall to the countries that our parents emigrated to as it is in opposition to it. Like the children of immigrants from all across the world, we have butted heads against the cultural norms and desires of our parents, questioned inherited tradition and fought to carve out our own identities as suffixed citizens who are never quite at home in either of the places we call by that name.
Too “Westernised” for the family members we left behind who struggle to understand us, but not Westernised enough for our adopted hosts until we have explicitly denounced our heritage in a misguided attempt at assimilation and acceptance. We have learned to adopt characters and characteristics that appease both sides. As we all try to navigate the contrasting public and private spheres of our daily lives, this duality of roles is a distinction that our cousins in Iran know all too well.
Overlooked in the erroneous desire to replace the realities of modern-day life as an Iranian with the exotic mythology of Persia is that not all Iranians are even ethnically Persian, and that Iran is a nation of 88 million people with a variety of ethnicities, religions, classes, languages and cultures that includes Armenians, Lurs, Turks, Arabs, Jews, Baluchis, Baha’is and Afro-Iranians, among others. This includes Kurdish-Iranian Jina (Mahsa) Amini, whose tragic death at the hands of the regime’s “morality police” in September last year ignited the protests that have erupted across the country. The movement’s motto – Jin Jiyan Azadi (woman, life, freedom) – originates from Kurdistan’s all-female freedom fighting units and it is Kurdish regions that have borne the brunt of the retaliatory crackdown.
The youth of Iran are fighting for their future, and as the 4 million of us who make up the diaspora seek to stand in solidarity, we must imagine a future that looks forward rather than back to a rose-tinted past. We must look to a place where all Iranians, regardless of religious belief, ethnic background, sexual orientation or wealth are able to freely embody every aspect of our identities without the threat of oppression or discrimination. It is only then that we can all be free, and not appear as two-dimensional characters in someone else’s story.
ART DIRECTOR Sara Kabiri HAIR Kei Tarada MAKE-UP Porsche Poon SET DESIGNER Camilla Byles MANICURE Jada-Elize Lorentz CASTING Emilie Astrom TALENT Tasalla, Roxanna, Hannah, Deba, Kasra, Joanne and Victor PRODUCER Sophie Hambling PHOTO ASSISTANT Abena Appiah STYLING ASSISTANTS Frankie Tyler and Liv Sayer HAIR ASSISTANTS Takumi Horiwaki MAKE-UP ASSISTANT Shani Mushington SET DESIGNER ASSISTANTS Columba Williams and Eleanor Chaplin MANICURE ASSISTANT Jasmine Corrina CASTING ASSISTANT Maria Pablo Feliz PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Monique Watson