The Interview of Hassan Khoobdel with Pedram Khosronjad about the "Wedding" Exhibition
1- Please introduce yourself to the readers of the magazine, briefly; and tell us about your specialized activities in the photography field and exhibition management. What exhibitions have you managed to hold before?
I am Pedram Khosronejad. I was born in Iran. I studied painting at the BA level at the University of the Arts (Art University Complex) and I am a graduate student of MA degree in the field of Art Research at the Azad University, Tehran Branch. When I was a lowerclassman, I worked with the Tehran Municipality's Center for the Development of Artistic Space and was the director of several galleries of Tehran Municipality's galleries, including the "Shafagh" Gallery. From then on, I started the curatorial work of the exhibition. Most of the art-works which I exhibited at the Shafagh Gallery was a discussion of the visual arts and folklore of Iranian nomads. I did this in collaboration with the University of the Arts' professors, Mehdi Hosseini and the late Professor Mohammad Ibrahim Jafari. Although I had lived with the Qashqai nomads since my childhood, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim Jafari encouraged me to be more familiar with the visual art of the nomads. The BA's and MA's theses were also related to the designs and drawings which were on the tombstones of Bakhtiari nomads.
In 2000, I went to France for the PhD course. First at the Sorbonne University and then at the Paris Institute of Social Sciences, I started to study in PhD course in the field of social anthropology and ethnography, and I performed a research on the stone lions of the Bakhtiari nomads. I also started teaching and researching at Oxford University in the UK from 2004 to 2007 as a student, and in 2007, I completed my PhD course in Paris and the occupation was done at Oxford University. In 2007, I was a post-doctoral fellow in Switzerland, and at the same time I had an occupation in the Department of Social Anthropology Studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, which was the only post-revolutionary Iranian anthropology chair which I held until 2015. From 2014 to 2015, I was teaching and researching as an appointed professor at the International Museum of Japanese Anthropology in Osaka. In 2015, I returned to France, where I had a one-year degree at the University of Nantes and the Nantes Institute of Codified Sciences. From 2016 to July 2019, I was invited to establish and run the Center for Iranian Studies and Persian Gulf Studies at Oklahoma State University in the United States. Currently, I have been researching the memories of German children based on their family photo albums that we called their parents in Iran between 1930 and 1941as an appointed professor at the Western Sydney University in Australia since November 2019.
I am not a photographer and I have no claim in this field, but professionally, my acquaintance with photography started when I was a lowerclassman. Under the supervision of professors such as "Professor Khademian" and "Yahya Dehghanpour". We also had good visual and scientific interactions with students of the photography, painting, and graphics courses. My good friend, the late Abbas Moradi, was one of the students who always explained the photo to us in a perfect way. At the same time, we were participated the art history classes of "Rooein Pakbaz". "Ahmad Ali" and "Bahman Jalali" were the great professors who were not allowed to attend in our university at that time (1990-1991); I personally, visited them, especially Bahman Jalali because he had photographed stone lions, and in the final years of my undergraduate and graduate studies, he helped me a lot, and at that time, the presence of professional photographers such as Maryam Zandi in exhibition, was very influential. However, photography as it is today in Iranian visual culture, had not yet known at that time, and there was no discussion about photography in the 1991s and the history of Iranian photography, especially photography in Qajar era, were not proposed. I focused on photography in Qajar era in 2011 at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. I held a conference on photography and cinema in the Qajar world with my colleague and friend, Professor Manouchehr Eskandari Qajar, and it was a social photography and cinema society during the Qajar era in Iran. I should appreciate to friend and colleague Dr. Alireza Ghasemkhan. At that time, when we decided to hold a photo exhibition of Qajar photographs at the University of St Andrew, Mr. Sharifi, the manager of the ''Golestan'' center, helped me and sent a great photo collection which was printed on the Museum's costs. When I received the photos and was working on the exhibition, I saw that there was a photograph of dark skin and black people inside the shrine of Nasser al-Din Shah (photo), and this was the first bright light for me regarding the photo in the visual history of Iran as a research document of anthropology, not a historical document.
In the field of pictorial anthropology, it is tried not to look at the photo as a historical document, but as a material cultural, and how a photograph can go beyond what is recorded in the photo. So at the time, my viewpoint was that, especially during my master's degree, I was an official member of the Cultural Heritage Organization's Institute's Anthropological Research Institute under the care of Dr. Mohammad Mirshokraei. I performed a research for two years (1991) on southern of Iran, and that's where I lived with the dark community of blacks in Iran. I wrote a detailed article about "Zar ceremony" in southern of Iran . The ceremony is related to the beliefs of the natives of the South regarding the penetration of supernatural forces into the body and its various stories. That's why seeing those photos pointed out to me that you lived in the south in the seventies and whether there is a connection between these blacks and those blacks or not?!
So then, the photos of that exhibition in related with cinema and the Qajar history were the beginning of my viewpoint for the presence of blacks in Qajar photography. On my next trips, I came to Iran and I had many cultural problems with the next head of the museum of Golestan Palace. The negligence and ignorance of the head of the museum of Golestan Palace, as well as the negligence of the heritage managers, who unfortunately still is there, while working, they said that we did not have slavery in Iran at all!
These blacks were slaves, which we call 'Qolam"( it means slave) in Persian, but they were slaves and when they were children, they were kidnapped from Africa by pirates and professional slave traders and sold in the ports of southern Iran and came to Iran. When I went to Golestan Palace, they said, "We didn't have slaves in Iran, and you cross the red line, and the best way is that you forget this matter!" However, the colleagues in the photo studio found about a hundred photos for me, which said, "Don't look at them, and we don't have that at all!" But with the special attention of Mr. Massoud Frasati, the director of the research department of the Center for the Study of Contemporary History, who was an old friend and colleague, he did a favor for me and gave me a large number of photographs of his archives. I do appreciate him.
I also appreciate the Central Library of the University of Tehran for many of the relevant photos of the Central Library which they gave me. After that, I considered a private archive that was in the possession of a person in England in 2014, whose name I still don't know. He gave me many interesting and spectacular photos. The archive is now available in California as ‘’Kimia Foundation Achieve’’. I would also like to thank Dr. Hooman Sarshar for allowing me to refer to this archive again and continue to use the photographs in my research that were originally available in London but now it belongs to him.
2- Explain the "Wedding" exhibition; how did the idea of this exhibition created and how did you order the situation?
As I began my research on the presence of African slaves in the photographs which are related to Qajar era, I became acquainted with other subjects in the archives. In this regard, my attention was drawn to the photographs of the family of Amir Dost Mohammad Moayyar-al-Mamalek, the son of Nezamodoleh Moayyar-al-Mamalek, and Mahnesa, who was the son-in-law of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar. I believe that they have established different styles of photography during the Qajar era, especially family photography and women's photography. After 2013, I considered these two issues, and perhaps I currently have the most complete private collection of photographs by Amir Dost Mohammad Moayyar-al-Mamalek, which includes more than 1,200 photographs. In the meantime, my attention was drawn to Nasser al-Din Shah's photographs of women and the crew of the shrine, and I began to collect this from private and domestic archives.
Now, I am considering mostly the three categories of photography such as African slaves, the women at the shrine of Nasser al-Din Shah, and photographs which were taken by Amir Dost Mohammad Moayyar-al-Mamalek.
Since 2011, perhaps I am the only university professor who has specialized in organizing exhibitions of the above mentioned topics in universities and scientific centers in the country and abroad.
My first two exhibitions in Iran were held and there were about the presence of African slaves in the photographs of Qajar era. First, a large exhibition was held at the National Library at the Center for the Study of Contemporary History and the following week, thanks to the help of Dr. Gholamreza Azizi and Dr. Ali Mohammad Tarafdari.
There were a lot of audiences for these two exhibitions and of course some of them were somehow opponents, but I think the issue was completely explained and they let me talk about that. After all, there were reactions. I should say that I am not a historian, or an expert in the photographs of Qajar era, or an expert in Qajar history. I followed and referred to these photographs as the only documents which the presence of the African slaves (woman, man, and kids) in the court of Nasser al-Din Shah and the Qajar families can be seen. There are many documents, but there are few articles, and most of the historical material is related to the collapse of slavery and the end of it. In particular, there is no document which considers the presence of African slaves in the photographs of Qajar era. After Iran, I held several exhibitions at about seven or eight prestigious American universities and took photographs to students and researchers (photograph).