The Islamic Republic of Iran is, according to Peter Chelkowski and Hamid Dabashi, a “Museum of Furious Art,” a poignant description that positions contemporary Iran as a site in which historical meaning is negotiated visually. The Islamic Republic is a place where individuals attempt to bridge the past and the present through visual encounters with historical objects. This scheme makes evident the centrality of visuality in contemporary Iran, but it also raises questions about who has permission to regulate and display images in this museum, and the degree to which the Islamic Republic exercises control over images and image-making. These kinds of questions are becoming increasingly urgent as changing technologies widen the flow of visual information and contribute to efforts of dissent. Addressing the complexities of visual experience in Iran from an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses historical, anthropological, and art historical perspectives, this panel raises the following questions: How has visual material been created and mobilized during times of social and political upheaval, and what are the ethical implications of documenting the violence of these events? How do we understand the historical precedents, both iconographic and technological, for visuality in the Islamic Republic? And how does visual material demarcate gender, class, and generational differences?
As they engage these questions, the panelists bring forth a wide range of visual material from early photography during the Qajar Dynasty to contemporary YouTube videos, and they attempt to decenter the primacy of textual evidence in our conceptualization of Iran’s modern history. The first panelist examines family portraits from the early twentieth-century in order to challenge the prevalent view that domestic slavery in Iran was a gentle form of enslavement. The second panelist considers the production and circulation of posters by the Organization of the People’s Fada’i-e Khalq with the aim of determining ideological nuance among revolutionaries during the 1978-79 Revolution. The third panelist determines how the Islamic Republic attempts to make a visualized “culture of martyrdom” relevant to today’s youth, a generation that did not experience the trauma of the Iran-Iraq War. Martyrdom is also the topic of the final presentation, which examines how various institutions categorize and visually represent female martyrs from the Iran-Iraq War and later the Green Movement in 2009.