Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile

Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’  Iranian Women in Exile

Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile exhibition opens at the University's Oriel y Bont.

Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile is artist Sama's unique and powerful exploration Iranian women’s experiences of exile, through performed photographic portraits, installation and sound.

Iranian-born Sama is a documentary photographer based in South Wales whose exhibition, Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile, uses the concept of portraiture to explore the lives of Iranian women living in exile in the UK.  Sama’s gallery installation offers a unique and powerful response to Iranian women’s experiences of exile, through performed portraits, photography, text, and voice.

Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile

Through a series of ten self-portraits, Sama acts as ‘narrator’, cipher and surrogate -standing in for women who have been traumatised, displaced from their former lives in Iran.

Using their spoken testimonies, Sama brings their individual stories to the fore, holding an object which represents a connection to their idea of home, alongside their recorded stories.

Locating her self-portraits in the Welsh forest, the artist explains: “I tied my hair to tree roots to indicate how I have been trying to find my new identity in this new land, like a displaced sapling trying to strengthen its young roots in new soil.

"My subjects are invisible in my photographs, but I visualise their presence through the objects of their choice to depict their situation in exile. Although detached from their homeland, they still have ties with their past in which their identities were formed."

Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile

Her research addresses a generation of women who were either born or spent their childhood during ‘Dahe Shast’ (Persian for The Sixties) (1360-1369 in Persian calendar, and1981-1990 in Gregorian calendar), a very important decade in the contemporary history of Iran during which many radical changes occurred in the way the country was governed. After the victory of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the new regime set strict Islamic laws that people had to obey.

The exhibition explores the impact of this new political order on the women who spent their childhood during ‘Dahe Shast’, experiencing the restrictions and segregations of the new patriarchal and religious society.

Sama’s project gives voice to her generation of women carrying the invisible wounds of witnessing one of the longest wars of contemporary history between Iran and Iraq (1980 - 1988), during which hundreds of thousands of lives were affected with many ‘Dahe Shasti’ children orphaned.

Sama’s motivation for the work is driven by a recognition of the pain these women carry. “Although many years have passed, and ‘Dahe Shasti’ women are now in their mid or late thirties, they still carry with themselves invisible wounds that cannot be healed. Many of these women have migrated to western countries like the UK so that they could leave their unpleasant memories behind and forget about the difficult lives that they had in Iran. As well as drawing on my own experience as a ‘Dahe Shasti’ woman in exile, my work involves nine UK-residing Iranian ‘Dahe Shasti’ women who told me about the unpleasant memories and experiences that they had in their homeland or even here, in the UK, where they are living in exile.”

Small Gifts: ‘Dahe Shasti’ Iranian Women in Exile

“My subjects’ stories are not just a reflection of this desire to maintain a historical connection with their origin, but they also address the issues that they experience in exile.

"My portraits are not conventional self-portraits in this respect; under a pseudonym, Sama, I am the cipher for the voices of others. I am the narrator of my subjects’ stories; my practice-led research is giving my participants a voice so that they can share their past traumatic experiences, like moments of separation, liminality, and fighting for incorporation in the new society.”