‘Unveiled,’ Farnaz Damnabi’s message of denunciation and hope

29 Arts in Progress Gallery presents Unveiled, the first personal exhibition of Iranian artist Farnaz Damnabi. The exhibition, which opened on May 22th and will remain open until July 28th, displays a selection of works that tell, in a manner as sophisticated as it is powerful, the story of a young photographer in contemporary Iran who explores the delicate balance between the country’s past and future.

The desire to denounce and celebrate the role of women in Iran

Damnabi’s desire is to put the figure of the woman at the center of attention, narrating and paying homage to Iranian female identity and the silent – but vital – role played by her compatriots in the Iranian community. Through her shots, Farnaz highlights the daily reality of women, who are systematically ignored by a patriarchal society that struggles to recognize their equality, value and freedom.

The works in the exhibition address major issues such as discrimination in the labor market, the gender gap in wages, and the failure to recognize women’s valuable contributions in key sectors of the local economy and handicrafts, such as saffron harvesting or carpet making. Through these snapshots, the author aims to raise and create awareness about the status of women in the Islamic Republic, highlighting the injustices and inequalities they face.

The works on display at 29 Arts in Progress Gallery

Several series are included in the exhibition at the Via San Vittore gallery, starting with Lost Paradise, in which Damnabi focuses on female figures portrayed from behind, facing a traditional Persian carpet. Images that create an effect of mimicry, almost merging the subject with the background, and symbolize a sense of both optical and social invisibility.

And again, the reportages (a genre for which the Tehran-born photographer is known) that document the lives of Iranian children, poetic in their inherent drama. Through them, the artist seeks to show not only the difficulties faced by the little ones in everyday life, but also their extraordinary ability to find magic even in the most adverse contexts; a perspective effectively exemplified in the emblematic title of one of the projects, Playing is my right.

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Playing is my right (ph. courtesy of 29 Arts in Progress Gallery)

The Metamorphosis series, on the other hand, is a veritable collection of suspended moments, scenes of daily life, rituals, clothing, and emblematic traditions of Iran. The images show women, children and teenagers, offering an intimate look at the Middle Eastern country’s culture and life.

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Metamorphosis (ph. courtesy of 29 Arts in Progress Gallery)

Reportage, expository images, and shots that celebrate the most marginal figures

With her most recent project, Be like a Butterfly, Damnabi documents the attempt of the new generation of women to improve their condition. Through her creative practice, she records the slow and sometimes imperceptible changes taking place in Iran’s social and cultural context. The title itself refers to the metamorphosis of chrysalises becoming butterflies, linking this transformation to the country’s women’s struggle for equality and freedom.

In another personal, touching account of her homeland, titled Pardis, she documents the experiment of a city called precisely Pardis, developed a few kilometers from Tehran. Despite its name, which invokes the concept of paradise, it was built with the intention of reversing migration from more densely populated areas; the massive construction of new buildings, however, has led to a devastation of the mountain ecosystem and the destruction of the area’s natural habitat, further aggravating the difficulties of connection with the capital. 

The photos belonging to this series seem suspended between reality and dreams, outlining a bleak landscape that the author herself calls a “moonscape.” Her shots highlight the reality of a denied paradise, in which Pardis becomes a dormitory neighborhood in which poor workers and families survive, ghettoized and deprived of the most basic services.

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Pardis (ph. courtesy of 29 Arts in Progress Gallery)

A message of hope and positivity

Damnabi’s works turn the voices of Iran’s unheard into images: these are the stories of women, marginalized from all aspects of the society in which they live; the stories of children, deprived of the inalienable right to a carefree childhood. They are not meant to be polemical but representative, as the artist, through her work, aspires to convey a message of hope and positivity, celebrating the stories of people struggling for a better future.

In the opening image, a shot by Farnaz Damnabi (ph courtesy 29 Arts in Progress Gallery)


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