Zaneh Parsi by Nava Derakhshani
by Nava Derakhshani
On cultural identity and Iranian femininity
B orn to Iranian parents in exile, I grew up with tales of strong women in my personal, religious, and political histories. From the infamous 19th century poet Tahirih, who boldly unveiled herself in a public gathering, standing for the rights of women to be free and equal members of society, to present-day human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, defying the death penalty. In Persian mythology too, women are depicted as determined figures, altering histories with their wit and passion. My work stands in the light of Iranian women, inspired by their fierce determination to stand for what they believe in, despite the consequences: execution as was the fate for Tahirih and unjust incarceration for Nasrin.
My work is inspired not only by grand heroic acts, but also by everyday rebellions that Iranian women are expressing today. I witness these through social media and through stories from family and friends from Iran. Small acts of wearing makeup and pushing the ru-sari back to show more and more hair, are all acts of radical revolt which have notable penalties in Iran. My work is also inspired by movements such as “My Stealthy Freedom,” “Men in Hijab,” and “White Wednesday,” where women remove their veils in acts of rebellion, or where men put them on in acts of allyship.
Based on ongoing research, this work is a deeply personal dive into the nuances of my cultural identity, generating a visual commentary on Persian womanhood, referencing Iranian art, culture, and discourses. I use portraits and collages in combination to delve into the layers of the political and cultural nuances of Iranian femininity, framed within contexts of liberation, expression, and control. I ask, how has this affected my idea of self and expression today, while living in a vastly different part of the world?
Learn more about Zaneh Parsi.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Nava Derakhshani is a New York-based artist. Born to Iranian parents in Eswatini, her work explores themes of identity, belonging, and gender. She holds a BA in architecture from the University of Cape Town and practiced in South Africa and India in low-cost eco-housing and urban design. Her Masters through Stellenbosch University, in Sustainable Development, took her to rural Ethiopia. There she used photography and oral history to research the spiritual and historic ties to farming and conservation. A graduate of the International Center for Photography, she turned her lens onto herself exploring her identity through research, photography, and collage. Find her on Instagram @navaderakhshani. More at navaderakhshani.com.