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June 14, 2020

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Photographer focuses on global solidarity

Iranian photographer Gohar Dashti has created a body of work exploring the relationship between nature, human migration and the ripple effects of conflict and social upheaval.

She believes the coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity to remind us of our mutual responsibility toward one another.

With the pandemic creating a collective sense of unmooring from the familiar, what’s important is “it will make us understand we’re all in the same boat — this is a shared pain,” she said from Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States, where she has been based for several years.

“I hope that from this situation, we will come to understand the world is one,” the 40-year-old photographer and video artist said.

“If a tree is cut in Africa, it impacts the life of someone in France. It’s good to understand the relationship between the world, economy and nature and maybe this epidemic has allowed us to think about all these issues again.”

A child of war

Nature and its relationship to mankind trace a thread through Dashti’s 15-year oeuvre — exhibited worldwide and featured in prestigious permanent collections — with nature often acting as a foil for examining social issues and identity in her large-scale, staged photographs.

Dashti’s own life was marked by conflict and its legacy.

She was born in Iran’s Khuzestan Province at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war that ravaged the oil-rich eastern region bordering Iraq and killed more than a million people between 1980 and 1988.

One of her series, “Today’s Life and War,” examined a couple going about day-to-day domestic life — cooking, watching TV, doing laundry — with all the trappings of a battlefield; tanks and soldiers loom in the background.

Another series “Stateless,” produced in 2014/2015, features scenes similar to those in news coverage of refugees and migrants but rendered stark and semi-theatrical against vast and towering landscapes.

Touching on ongoing conflicts, she hopes people, particularly those in wealthy countries, will come to recognize they are not unaffected by the suffering of others around the world.

“What is much more important to me is the view of countries with high economic power,” Dashti said. “For them to understand they are not separate — we all live in the same world. Sometimes we see something like war in the media and think it has nothing to do with us — that’s Afghanistan’s problem or that’s Yemen’s problem. But what’s happening now shows it has to do with all of us. If a war breaks out in Yemen or in Afghanistan, it also has an effect on our lives, so we can’t stay silent.”

She said her compatriots in Iran, currently facing the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, have rallied in solidarity in the face of the pandemic, drawing on resilience from previous crises.

“Iran, like all countries, was taken unawares by the virus and is experiencing very difficult conditions,” Dashti said.

“But really, with cooperation between people and the commendable efforts of medical professionals, they have been able to manage the crisis. In my opinion, the people in Iran have shown a lot of solidarity — one reason is they are a people who have known crisis.”

Resilience to the anxiety triggered by uncertainty is something Dashti thinks we can learn from the pandemic.

“The conditions created by the coronavirus all over the world teach us how to live with instability,” she said.

“In my opinion, artists and migrants can deal with these situations better.”

“They know how to live and work with an uncharted future.”

Thrown into her own state of uncertainty with exhibitions of her work “Land/s” — a meditation on finding the familiar in foreign landscapes — cancelled or postponed, Dashti is still working on a film about the project. However, like many others around the world she’s experiencing a change of pace.

“I am spending a lot of time with my 4-year-old son, giving him lessons,” she said.

“I feel like I have never spent so much with him. Another activity I love is taking walks in nature.

“More and more I think I should pay greater attention to and work on nature and its relationship with humanity.”


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