Sheida Soleimani‘s photographs from ‘National Anthem’ are deeply personal and political, an exasperated expression that reflects her conflicted relationship with Iran, a country her parents fled after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 only to witness the destruction of everything they believed in under the theocratic dictatorship of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Like many political refugees Soleimani has a complex relationship with Iran, her cultural being a commingling of western influences and the stories she heard from her parents, of imprisonment, torture and escape from the country of their birth, the umbilical tearing from their homeland that has left them and many like them adrift and without hope of returning to a life before religious totalitarianism.
This intuitive and visceral need to make a mark, to express the disillusion, the separateness and the rage against a state that has robbed Soleimani of her connection to the earth from which her history was born, is what informs these pictures. Each of them a critical perspective of Iran, the view of an exile looking in, trying to come to terms with the relationship she has with her own country.
Using a series of cultural symbols and signifiers Soleimani creates a narrative that’s informed by her parents stories of their past and current socio-political situation in Iran. Her work both darkly comical and satirically biting, the rage palpable, the emotion writ large, the personal made political. In this series she looks particularly at the change of leaders over the past 35 years in Iran and how the coming of each dictator has changed the course of contemporary history, each change bringing more oppression and a further curtailment of freedom and equality. Here’s what she has to say about the series:
In my photographic scenarios, cultural symbols and signifiers are appropriated to create a narrative in regards to my position as an Iranian-American viewing the Middle East from an outside lens. The usage of specific colors and political figures form a symbolic lexicon that runs throughout the series, while party supplies hint at the doctrines of ‘political parties’. Each of the photographs addresses a specific time in Iranian history, while alluding to how both the East and West have responded to societal occurrences. Through incorporating multiple layers, the lexicon can be read and refashioned by the viewers’ ideologies, creating images that remain coeval, while acknowledging former origins.