An unconventional view of the Iranian Revolution at FOMU in Antwerp

The Antwerp photography museum FOMU is currently hosting a fascinating exhibition devoted to the work of the Iranian photographer and artist Hannah Darabi. Together with anthropologist Chowra Makaremi she homes in on the short period between 1979 and 1983, the time of the Iranian Revolution and its immediate aftermath.

Exhibition curator Rein Deslé: "Today many people don't realise it, but these five years were a period when free speech flourished. It was a chaotic time when an awful lot of things were going on. Today we know Iran as the Islamic Republic, but as Hannah Darabi discovered when she went back to this period it certainly wasn't a foregone conclusion that this would be the result of the revolution. Hannah is an Iranian photographer and artist, who today is based in Paris. This exhibition could certainly not be staged in Iran today."

The exhibition was first seen at the photography centre Le Bal in Paris and is now in Antwerp until 9 June.

Hannah Darabi was born in 1981 and has no direct personal experience of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, but growing up she heard many different accounts of what had happened. There was what she heard from family and relatives, the story she heard at school, the official government view and the story told by activists. Hannah and Chowra Makaremi were eager to attempt to reconstruct what happened and provide their own interpretation.

Hannah Darabi, FOMU

The exhibition opens with a collection of political tracts. Rein Deslé: "During the revolution and immediately afterwards there was an awful lot of debate. People were discussing everything. New ideas were passed on in low cost publications. This was the time that political booklets first flourished in Iran. It was a new genre for this country. Many of the booklets were printed and sold by booksellers in one particular street, Enghelab Street in Tehran. It was a cheap and democratic way of disseminating new ideas. People wrote their own booklets or published the ideas of others. Enghelab Street is located near Tehran University so there was a ready audience among the students."

From these tracts it's clear today's Islamic Republic of Iran wasn't the only possible outcome of the Iranian Revolution, even if that's what those in power in Tehran would like us to believe today.

Hannah Darabi, FOMU

1979-83 was also an exciting time for photography in Iran. The magazine 'Tehran Mosavar' included a special section devoted to photography and this helped to document the revolution and its immediate aftermath.

Hannah Darabi also went in search of photo books published in these years and together with anthropologist Chowra Makaremi she undertook the gigantic work of examining which photo books were published, who made them and what they documented. She spent five years of her life collecting such photo books from private individuals and the like.

Iranian Books, Hannah Darabi, FOMU

Rein Deslé: "The exhibition also devotes attention to Hannah's own work (detail: top). She has attempted a 'Reconstruction' of this period using her own photographs and combining these with historical material: postcards, quotes from religious leaders, screen shots from TV broadcasts, family snapshots, snippets from newspapers, etc. In this way she creates a new visual history based on the findings from her research. She shows how a photographer today views the Iranian revolution of 1979."

"Since 1983 the Islamic government has taken charge of the story of the Iranian Revolution. For many people the pictures of demonstrations by thousands of unveiled women in the streets of Tehran will come as somewhat of a surprise. The story of the revolution and its aftermath are also beautifully documented by a documentary shot at the time, but never released before. It shows an atmosphere of openness and debate, people discussing the many opportunities for their new society. It surfaced as part of Hannah's search and is being screened during the exhibition."

‘Hannah Darabi, Enghelab Street, A Revolution through Books, Iran 1979-1983’ runs at FOMU, Waalsekaai 47 in Antwerp until 9 June. A reading with Hannah Darabi is planned at FOMU at 8PM on 23 May.

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