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The urban spaces of cosmopolitan cities throughout the world bear a degree of uniformity. The aspiration is a horizon of shining glass and steel towers; symbols of their modernity and to varying degrees littered with billboards bearing signs of commodities. In pictures of Tehran, where an increasingly youthful population has access to almost everything that can be found in the US, these billboards are nowhere to be seen.
Instead monumental murals celebrating the memory of numerous martyrs cover the sides of offices and apartment blocks. Beneath the long shadows cast by these memorials, the everyday life of Tehranians continues unabated.
In his Shadowlands photography series, Zadoc Nava attempts to convey this tension. He contrasts the the gigantism of the war hero, the martyr to Islam, obsessively commemorated by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the microcosm of life lived in all its poetry and passion in his pictures of Tehran. President Ahmadinejad’s religious fervour signals the degree to which the country is trapped. It’s a minefield between the religious and the reformist forces that have struggled for control since the Islamic revolution in 1979. Iran’s complex role in the Middle East is evident in the dual position it currently holds. The country is targeted by the US for its accumulation of nuclear arms yet courted by it behind the scenes to assist the Obama administration in allaying Islamic sectarianism in Iraq. For Nava, this conflict is fought most intensely in Iranian women’s sense of identity. It is an image caught between a modernism demonised as a Western import since the Shah’s reign and tradition, a nostalgia for the Islamic heritage, and rural customs largely erased by the Pahlevi’s cultural propaganda.
In women’s clothing this tension is evident in the few inches of hair shown beneath a scarf, or the slight hint of a lipstick. Then there is the daring image of a woman seen holding her partner’s hand. Perhaps what is most arresting about these photographs is the way they capture a sense of these conflicts. They capture pictures of Tehran at a moment that is fraught with national anxiety over Iran’s sovereignty as a political force in the global scene.
Shadowlands by Zadoc Nava is out now published by Black Dog Publishing. www.blackdogonline.com.