INTERVIEWS SERIES: IRAN-ITS WOMEN, ITS ICONS, ITS FASHION AND CULTURE IN THE EYES OF MARTHA KIRSZENBAUM
For this second interview with several French creatives about their vision of Iran, we had the pleasure to discuss with the very inspired Martha Kirszenbaum, a curator and art critic based between Paris and Los Angeles. She will collaborate with Laure Prouvost for the French Pavillon at the Venice Biennale in 2019.
Let’s be honest, Martha is almost an expert of Iran, passionate and well aware of Iranian culture and of all the multiples Persian femininities.
We hope you’ll enjoy the discussion as much as we did!
Persiennes :When you first heard about Tehran and its fashion, what did you imagine? Did you have an idea about young Iranian women’s looks, specially in the capital Tehran?
Martha : Before my first trip in Iran, I reviewed my basics – literature, 70’s pop and gastronomy. But I had no idea how to dress up other than with a long tunic and a hijab. I was fascinated by the tunics’ sparkling colors created by Iranian designers or the ones from the Gulf countries often matched with the most fashionable sneakers. So I glanced at Vogue Arabia but I was in a rush before my departure and grabbed a few dark and long clothes in LA, and clearly realized my mistake even before landing in Tehran. On the plane taking me from Dubai to Tehran, I had opted for a basic black total look and went make-up free. It was something that seemed quite universal and easy for me. The only thing was that my travel partners were just getting back from a massive shopping session in the Emirates, their hands full of Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent’s bags, over-dressed in thousand lights and prints, especially on their hijabs. One of my cabin neighbors who was wearing a leopard-printed scarf couldn’t get over the fact that a French woman would dress all in black to travel! “Are you religious,” she asked with a touch of disdain?
The very next day, I decided to work on my looks, left my Western rags behind and went for shopping in a local mall to blend in with the beautiful and classy Tehrani masses. What an unforgettable fashion lesson!
P: How do you see The Iranian woman?
M: In my immediate imagination and before my first trip to Iran, I imagined Iranian women either draped in long black abayas as mostly seen on photographs from the Islamic Revolution, or richly styled and dressed like in Khaleeji’s style in the Gulf countries. I imagined them as magnificent as in Ancient Persia but also frightened because of extreme clichés, and sometimes wearing very simple not religious clothes at all.
I often found Iranian women naturally very beautiful at home, with no hijab or make-up, because of the huge gap existing between the private and the public spheres in Iran, particularly when it comes to the behavior toward the opposite sex. To be really honest, my deep fascination for Iranian women kept growing day after day. Legendary is their beauty; less so the fierceness in their eyes, their charismatic presence, the determination of their silhouettes when they walk down the streets of Tehran with high heels or fashionable sneakers.
I noted their endless tactics to exist under the hijabs of the Islamic Republic, particularly in the public space, because you know, there are 1001 ways to wear scarves in Iran—from the traditional Tchador in the south of Tehran or in more conservatives and religious cities like Qom, to the shimmering, silky and stylish scarves that heavenly and unexplainably stand in balance on their glossy long hair.
The use of colors in Iran is surely a form of political resistance, an opposition made of tons and motifs against black obscurantism. If one day, there is a new form of revolution in Iran, I am convinced it will be carried by women.
P: Who are the iconic Iranian personalities you admire the most?
M: Oh ok! I’m going to have a look in my encyclopedia!
Googoosh first and foremost, because she is the queen of my heart and my ears and her influence on Middle-Eastern music is unrivaled, but also the 1970s musicians Ramesh, Ahdeyeh Kourosh Yaghmaei.
The movie director Abbas Kiarostami — I will never forget his charisma and severity when I first met him at MoMa in New York, also Jafar Panahi who has been under house arrest in Iran or Asghar Farhadi and his moving speech in absentia at the Oscars ceremony last year, and of course the beautiful actress Golshifteh Farahani.
Thanks to my mom, I grew up with all the major Persian authors: Hafez, Saadi and Ferdowsi. Later, I got into Sadegh Hedayat and Zoya Pirzad’s novels, and I laughed and cried reading Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis. More than the Shah or Farah Diba Pahlavi, the iconic people who come to my mind are Peace Nobel Prize Shirin Ebadi or the 94 year-old artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.
To end this great interview, let’s dream with a few words of our Great Persian poet Hafez:
“I wish I could show you, When you are lonely or in darkness,The Astonishing Light Of your own Being!”