Clotheslines of Isolation

Roshanak Keyghobadi | October 2014

 

و این منم
زنی تنها
در آستانه فصلی سرد
…در ابتدای درک هستی آلوده ی زمین
فروغ فرخزاد

And here I am
a lonely woman
at the beginning  of a cold season
coming to comprehend the earth’s contaminated existence … [i]
Forough Farrokhzad

A woman is photographed inside an enclosed space of a courtyard at night and the other is painted on a rooftop in the daytime. One is standing in front of a clothesline that is covered with necessary items such as a bedsheet, a pillow case, pajamas, socks and underwear which appears that were urgently washed and hung to dry. The other is standing next to a clothesline that is covered with not necessarily essential items such as a shirt, a skirt, a pair of pants and a sundress, which seems that have been leisurely washed and hung to dry with seven matching clothespins.

Both women’s heads and bodies are covered with chador, one with a formal black chador, which is usually worn outside the house and in public spaces, and the other with an informal patterned chador that is typically used inside the house and in private spaces. The woman with black chador is looking straight at the viewer and wearing her covering in a relaxed way. The woman in patterned chador with her back to the viewer seems to be looking at the view in front of her. She is also wearing her chador casually and is barefoot.

In his essay Painting and Time (1985)[ii] John Berger explains that paintings are “prophecies received from the past” whereas photographs are “records of the past.” He also believes that a painting “stops time” and a photograph “preserves a moment.”

Tahmineh Monzavi[iii] has been recording and preserving moments as a documentary photographer and this particular image is part of her Women Addicts (2010) series that she shot at women’s shelters in Darvazeh Ghar and Maydoun-e Shoush neighborhoods in Tehran. Monzavi explains: “I took these pictures at shelters for homeless women who could stay for the night and avoid sleeping in the parks and streets. I tried to take photos of the regular moments of their lives not the times of violence and injections. Their faces were attractive and had so much to say. Their gaze could get you deep inside their lives and they would transfer joy and sorrow to you…I worked on this project for three years. Every two weeks or once or twice a month I would go and visit and take pictures. During this time people would come and go and change…The Women Addicts series was the most interesting project for me despite all of its difficulties. I was interested in taking photos of the women and being with them in their environment, to see their interactions, their different types of problems, their hygiene and their treatment, the type of care they received, their condition and struggles, and how others thought about them and the ways they coped with their situation.” (Monzavi, 2011)[iv]

Monzavi met the woman in this photograph at one of the women’s shelters. She recalls: “Her name was Javaher (Jewel) and she used to be an addict. She was in love with an offender and when I took this photo she was 27 years old and pregnant. Javaher was very beautiful and neat. She always wore makeup and made her eyes so black that it seemed black juice will drip from her eyes. She was kind and sensitive and helped and cooked for other women who lived with her…I wanted to take a photo of Javaher in front of the clothesline in the courtyard at night. She had just washed the clothes, which belonged to her and her friends. She was very scrupulous and reminded me of my grandmother who also washed clothes in her courtyard’s basin with a hose and spread them on the clothesline.” (Monzavi, 2014) [v]

In her paintings Zeynab Movahed[vi] captures the mundane and still moments of lives of the women with their faces not revealed to the viewer. She states: “The female element in my paintings is definitely related to me as a woman and the multiple, contradictory and yet sensitive positions that a woman has in our society. Not showing the women’s faces in my works is a gentle protest against the over emphasis on her body and where a woman’s domestic labor and duties as well as her sexual activities are more important than her intellect. A woman’s beauty and sexual attractiveness limits her and also marriage confines her. The women in my paintings are educated and aware of the discriminations against them and are silently in defiance… “ (Movahed, 2014)[vii]

This image is part of Movahed’s series of paintings titled Clothes Rope (2011). She explains: “For me the rooftop is a small and isolated space away from others and an extension of a woman’s loneliness and seclusion. This seclusion for me and others like me was once imposed but now is voluntary as the result of the unpleasant contemporary social and cultural climate… The clothesline confines the woman and is wrapped around all the layers of her life and she can not get rid of it…” (Movahed, 2014)[viii]

The two artists have been engaged in critical visual investigations that invite the viewers to look deeper and see beyond the surface of things. Monzavi’s photograph and Movahed’s painting not only depict personal/public and mental/physical spaces of these women but also relate their marginalized condition to their class. According to statistics, six million Iranians have addiction to drugs and at least 700,000 of addicts in Iran are women.[ix] On the other hand the number of female to male students entering universities in Iran is two to one, yet upon graduation one-third or less are likely to work as men do, and this number drops after women get married and have children.[x] 79% of all Iranian women are literate but only 21% of them are [officially] employed.[xi] Monzavi’s Javaher as a homeless addict and Movahed’s solitary woman at home belong to the exploited and subordinated class in Iranian society which their intellect, labor, voice and personhood has no value. They are neither considered good daughters, wives and mothers nor “useful” and “productive” citizens. These women are socially distanced and frequently ignored.

Tahmineh Monzavi has documented personal moments of women that the society prefers to forget and Zeynab Movahed has narrated private moments of women that prefer to forget the society.

[i] Forough Farrokhzad poem. Translation from Persian to English by Roshanak Keyghobadi.
[ii] John Berger (1985). The Sense of Sight. Vintage International.
[iii] http://tahminehmonzavi.com
[iv] http://vimeo.com/83477362 (Translated by Roshanak Keyghobadi from the Interview in Persian with Tahmineh Monzavi, SHEED Award 2011 Winner which was produced by : MAAD STUDIO)
[v] From Roshanak Keyghobadi’s e-mail correspondence with Tahmineh Monzavi, 2014.
[vi] http://www.zeynabmovahed.com
[vii] From Roshanak Keyghobadi’s e-mail correspondence with Zeynab Movahed, 2014.
[viii] From Roshanak Keyghobadi’s e-mail correspondence with Zeynab Movahed, 2014.
[ix] http://www.theguardian.com
[x] http://www.brookings.edu
[xi] http://iranlaborreport.com

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2014. This essay cannot be reproduced, quoted, translated or published in part or as a whole in any format without Roshanak Keyghobadi’s permission.

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