Maryam Firuzi, those flowers in the rubble

This article is published in number 46 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until November 16, 2022

For the Iranian photographer Maryam Firuzi there is always a way out. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. All her poetics, after all, speaks of this. Of optimism. And it is not a foregone conclusion, given that the artist in question comes from Iran, the scene in these days of violent clashes in the name of freedom. The series The Scattered Memories of Distorted Future, which she presents in Paris at the stand of the Silk Road Gallery in Tehran from 10 to 13 November in
occasion of Paris Photo 2022, fits perfectly into this trend. The project was born a couple of years ago after a plane crash which killed 176 people, including passengers and crew members. “I remember that the news of that tragedy that took place on the outskirts of Tehran shocked me to the point that I did not speak for days,” says Maryam, born 36 years ago in Shiraz, a city famous for its literary history, gardens and tomb of Hafez, one of Iran’s most beloved poets and mystics. “From that moment on it was a crescendo of suffering: there were political crises, water crises, recession, pandemic. I woke up in the morning and I was demolished. Everything seemed to be falling apart: my family, my friends, my relationships, my city, my land, myself ».

Maryam then decides to travel the country in search of all kinds of physical rubble to be transformed into a metaphor for pain thanks to art and photography. Disused petrol stations, forgotten amusement parks, dilapidated historic homes: she calls together eleven local painters to whom she asks to intervene on these places to transform them into works of art. And then she portrays them next to their creation. Creativity thus becomes a balm, a medicine capable of sedating torments and wounds. «I would like to find out what effect art has on the rubble», Maryam writes in the text she introduces
the series.

In the end he found out?
“Until the protests of recent weeks I had no answers. But now yes. Also thanks to The Scattered Memories of Distorted Future I learned that artists are always the first to react, to get involved despite defeats. They fail but they go on. They create from nothing, becoming a metaphor for reconstruction. It is thanks to their tenacity that I continue to have hopes ».

His images displace because they speak of pain but at the same time also of enchantment. What reactions do you want to arouse in those who admire them?
«All my works address social issues through projects in which aesthetics play a primary role. Many critics consider it to be my weakness, in fact it is my strength. I come from a war-torn family and my eyes have seen a lot of suffering. Yet, since childhood, I have always sought harmony in the midst of horror. I remember that among the ruins of the bombings I was struck by the fields in bloom, which could be seen a little further on. I wandered through the rubble with tears in my eyes. but in the end I always came home with a bouquet of flowers in my hands. This has kept me on my feet ».

Much of her work focuses on female identity: what does it mean to be a female artist in Iran today?
“First I’ll explain what it means to be a woman in Iran today. She means being a fighter. They teach you this from an early age. From the moment you wake up in the morning until you go to bed in the evening you have to know how to impose yourself to get anything, even the most trivial. This does not happen only in us, but in any patriarchal society. For those who are women and artists, everything must be multiplied tenfold. We need to dramatically increase grit and determination. Because art in Iran has always been a complex topic. Most of the artists of my generation
he fought against his own families to be able to paint or take a simple photo ».

Because?
«Because in Italy, being part of an artistic community presupposes having more open and free principles than the rest of society. And this risks destabilizing the most closed families. Not only that: the further you go, the more problems accumulate. Without realizing it, however, you discover that you can face them all, because in the meantime you have become a real warrior ».

In all these years, have you never thought of giving up, of giving up fighting?
“Yes, I’ve come to the point of collapsing many times. But, especially on days like these when the protest seems like a river in flood, we must continue to resist. Woe to sit down ».

Iran is experiencing the most important wave of dissent since the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979. There are many women in the streets. What do you think about it?
“Until a few years ago the only images we had of the 1979 revolution were those broadcast on national TV where we saw veiled women chanting slogans for Ayatollah Khomeini. But something else also happened: on March 8 of that same year, for example, two weeks after the revolution, thousands of women took to the streets to protest against the mandatory hijab. For years these images have been censored, now they have gone viral on the net. Today our women take to the streets to claim rights that until recently they did not even dare to pronounce in private. There is also my voice among them. A voice that for years,
despite the fear, I tried to make people feel through the photos ».

On TV and on social media, we see many women burning their chadors in the street. What effect does it have on her?
“I burned mine when I was 19. I was forced to wear it for ten very long years. Almost every day, I struggled with my father to be able to leave the house without the veil. Hijab has been one of the big problems in my life. I spent my childhood and youth claiming a right that should be obvious and natural ”.

In his previous photographic series entitled Concealment (in Italian, concealment) he makes models wear strange chadors made of stone, leaves, fish and shells. Because?
“It’s a parody. The sense is that the chador is something unnatural just like a woman covered with stones, shells, fish or leaves. At the time of Concealment mine was a hidden protest: until very recently it was unthinkable to address the issue openly. Today, however, we can finally ».

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Maryam Firuzi, those flowers in the rubble