JTF (only facts): Published in 2021 by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp (here). Thin cover (19.5 x 27 cm), 184 pages with five portal folds, 65 color photographs. Includes artist texts. In edition of 500 copies. Designed by Jill Jespers. (Cover and post the shots below.)
Comments/Context: Iranian artist Mashid Mahjarin’s work focuses on resistance, displacement, and social injustice, often combining artistic and documentary perspectives. In her practice, she constantly questions the representation and misrepresentation of women in the Middle East. Posted by previous Lipstick and gas masks And fabric as resistance Look at the repercussions of the Arab Spring, particularly the role of women in the resistance. The third and most recent picture book for immigrants Freedom is not free Examines the presence of women in influencing political change throughout history. The book is also a very personal journey, as the artist who grew up in Europe returns to her homeland in search of her identity and history. The book is part of her doctoral research project at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. The book won the Rencontres d’Arles Book Prize early this year.
Like the title suggests, the book takes into account the question, What does freedom really mean? To build her visual narrative, Mohajer combines photos of women from her family and friends, with places she remembers from her childhood. In the lives of these women, the political and the personal become inseparable. Mahjarin uses collages with archival photographs relating to the history of the revolution (presented in the book as folds) to show how their lives have been affected by the revolution. Her personal writing brings these images to life and ties everything together. The excellent sequence of images creates a thoughtful, dream-like visual narrative to illustrate the history of women in the resistance.
Freedom is not free It is a comfortable medium sized thin hardcover book. The cover shows a woman’s face with red halftone dots, but hidden behind the title prominently obscuring the images, written in black script in Persian and English. Inside, most of the photos are the same size with a thin white frame around them. An image of a woman smoking a hookah, while a cloud of thick white smoke obscures her face, opens up the visual narrative. In the following writings, Mahjarin recalls her grandmother, who was born in northern Persia in 1934, in the same year, she notes, Persian poet and feminist Forough Farkhzad. “Farrokhzad called on women to rise up against centuries of oppression that she believes men and women in her community suffer.”
The poster leaflets are grouped throughout the book into five time capsules. They highlight key events related to the Mahajin family and relate them to a broader historical context. The first collage tracing history dates back to 1934, the year a quarry’s grandmother was born. It combines photographs, newspaper clips, a map, handwritten notes, and illustrations creating a historical frame of reference. The Arab feminist movement has its origins in the Palestinian national struggle. Its beginning was in Egypt,” as stated in one of the notes.
As the narrative progresses, we learn that the grandmother got her driver’s license when she was 20, bought a red BMW, and “used to smoke while driving around Tehran,” was “designed and independent.” A cut of the red car with pictures and a pack of cigarettes appears at the top of the second collage. The artist’s mother was born in 1954, and the collage represents a number of other key events and people, among them Djamila Bouhired, a national heroine, who planted a bomb in the European quarter of Algeria to oppose the French occupation of Algeria. A black and white photo shows Bouhair holding a package. Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to lead an Islamic country, was born around the same time.
Muhajireen was born in 1979. In the eighties, when she was seven years old, after the revolution, her family had to leave the country. They settled in Belgium. The fifth series coincides with the unexpected death of the artist’s grandmother in 1995. Layers of photographs show protests and resistance actions. Collage elements tell the story: Halima Aden appears on the cover Arabic Lug (June 2017) The first veiled model, protesting women in Lebanon, headlines read, “The protesters refuse to turn Iraq into a ‘second Iran.’” Scraps of poppies are strewn over the pictures, to symbolize love and joy.
Among the posters, images loaded with symbolism depict the country and its people. Photo of a woman in a housecoat looking straight into the camera, followed by a shot of a bottle possibly containing medicine full of pickled snakes. Another photo captures a bowl with three goldfish taken from above, a symbol of life and love. A series of photos taken with green light (the color associated with Shiite Islam but also prosperity and friendship) shows a sign reading “Freedom is not free” in English and Farsi followed by two shots of women inside a mosque.
Other images relate to the recent uprisings: an image of a man wearing a gas mask, women in the streets waving Iranian flags, the rusty body of a wrecked car, a wedding dress on a broken mannequin. Mahjarin notes that “despite severe punishments and limited access to the outside world, young women in middle-class areas walk the street in impeccable makeup and fashionable sneakers, yearning for the change and freedoms they take for granted elsewhere.” Actions of individual resistance fill in the gaps.
This year saw a large number of excellent picture books by women that dealt with a range of issues in the Arab world. in a hello future (Revised here), Farah Al Qasimi explores the intersection of women’s roles, Western influences, and gender stereotypes. Hoda Afshar’s book captures the spirit of life in the islands in the Strait of Hormuz (revised here). Solmaz Dhariani addresses the climate emergency in a poignant personal account in her book earth eyes (Revised here).
Freedom is not free Is a thoughtful and thoughtful picture book, with an elegant design, that brings photography and writing together into a powerful narrative. By combining historical images with more personal images, then layering them over a reflection of those experiences, Mohadjerin builds a complex and subtle story. Her portrayal of female fighters of all kinds not only challenges the more common portrayal of women in the Islamic world as obedient and passive, but also highlights their undeniable role in shaping political change throughout history.
POV collector: Machid Mohajirin did not have a consistent gallery representation at this time, but a solo show of her work is on display at contemporary Twenty14 in Milan (here) until February 28, 2022. Her work has little to no secondary market history at this point, so the gallery is likely to remain on sale Retail is the best choice for collectors interested in pursuing.