The work of Samin Ahmadzadeh was referred to in my feedback for assignment one as being relevant to the work I had produced.
Samin Ahmadzadeh is an Iranian photographer/artist now based in London. Her practice was initially concerned with street and documentary photography, and was particularly concerned with cultural and sociological matters in Iran. Studying for an MA at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design, Ahmadzadeh was influenced by the work produced fine art students and her practice became more conceptual. She began to create collages from photographs from her family’s archive. Bahadur (2016) makes this observation:
“[Ahmadzadeh’s] objective is to make personal and intimate photographic collections transcend the memorial function and open them for further social, cultural and historical analysis and interpretations.”
Ahmadzadeh uses a technique she describes as ‘photo weaving’ in her collages initially inspired by the idea of multiculturalism and particularly her fathers experience of being both Iranian and going to boarding school in England. Looking at the family archive, she recognised how her fathers identity was informed by both Eastern and Western cultures and wanted to find a way to capture this in a single image:
“With the photo weaving technique, I was able to combine the captured moments that have shaped his persona and identity as a result of being raised in two completely different cultures. Two photographs that represent the different upbringings are shredded and weaved together. With the shredding of the images I recreate the fragmentation of a memory. The two photographs are then combined as a weaving. This final abstracted image can be interpreted as a recall of his unconsciousness being formed through his life experiences in between Eastern and a Western society.” (Made In Mind, s.d.)
Bahadur (2016) has this to say about the work:
“The past appears in a fragmented visual style, much like how we have it stored in our minds. The final artistic products are multi-layered images, each containing a mix of several figures and stories, gently conveying to us the message that one individual is really a composite of many influences and experiences.”
The presentation of the finished work has evolved to the point that creating an interesting object in its own right is a central concern for Ahmadzadeh. Often, the compositions are ‘finished’ by being mounted on wood, varnished and then polished which gives the compositions a permanence and makes them a one of a kind project. (Ahmadzadeh can be seen making work this way in this film.) The process of weaving the images is time consuming and the end result is always surprising – sometimes the finished pieces can turn out completely differently than they were at first envisaged which is exciting and unpredictable. In an interview, Ahmadzadeh describes her interest in abstraction:
“I’m interested in how abstract art has experimented with colour pattern, shape and composition as a form of visual language, often breaking down a composition to its basic elements. For me looking at abstraction in art has allowed me to focus more on exploring the relationship between forms and colour in my work to present my ideas on memory, something that itself can be quite abstract.” (Turner, s.d.)
This project was initiated as part of Ahmadzadeh’s final MA project – two images of her father are interwoven in an attempt for her to understand how his childhood living between Iran and English boarding school affected him, informed his identity and how this was passed to her. Apart from seeing the family photo archive, Ahmadzadeh knew little about this part of her fathers life and she chose to begin the project with detailed interviews where he recounted every single memory of when he was in the UK:
“Hearing all that, it made me understand and relate to the story. I realized the variety of concepts that I could explore, while at the same time focusing on the idea of storytelling. I began to think about a person’s identity, the effect of family and cultural history on one’s personality and the idea of multiculturalism.” (Made In Mind, s.d.)
the inspiration for this series comes from an idea Ahmadzadeh came across that posited the limits of human memory limit mean that we only have the potential to recall 10,000 faces in our life times. Two archive head shots of celebrities and everyday people are woven together to create a new image which seems both familiar and alien. The collages are immediately identifiable, and yet, the ability to read them is frustrated. As I try to make out the people in the photographs, the more I look the less able I am to do so. Strangely, they also seem completely familiar – the result perhaps of being able to recognise the language employed by the studio photographer.
This work is a 500 piece installation commissioned by Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery which incorporates Ahmadzadeh’s own family archive with that of Brighton based photographer Tim Andrews. Andrews saw Ahmadzadeh’s work on Twitter and invited her to use his archive as source material. Both archives are from a similar time period and by bringing both of them together Ahmadzadeh is able to show that there is a large similarity between East and West.
Aesthetically, Ahmadzadeh chose to present the images in the form of circles which is based partly on her interest in geometrical factors used in art, particularly Islamic art, and also because she wanted to use the form of the circle to represent unity and harmony – something that is significant given she is bringing two sets of family archives together.
The journey Ahmadzadeh has followed in her practice – from an interest in traditional forms of photography that is based on the real to conceptually based work that is based on the archive and appropriation resonates with me as I beginning to suspect this is where my own interests are heading. I admire the way she has arrived at a way of working involving weaving images together and then has developed this subtly forward in both form and content. There is also an authenticity to her work that comes from her wanting to explore her family history which elevates the work above being either a technical or aesthetic exercise.
Bahadur, T. (2016) All Woven Up. On Art and Aesthetics. Available at: https://onartandaesthetics.com/2016/12/03/all-woven-up/ [accessed 24th November 2019]
Made In Mind (s.d.) Samin Ahmadzadeh. Made In Mind Magazine. Available at: https://www.madeinmindmagazine.com/saminahmadzadeh/ [accessed 24th November 2019]
Recollection (2017) Dir: Vrublevska, V. Available at: https://vimeo.com/219810522/3975cb0cf6
Turner, A. (s.d.) Q&A: Samin Ahmadzadeh. Strange Fire. Available at: http://www.strangefirecollective.com/qa-samin-ahmadzadeh [accessed 24th November 2019]