Pedram Khosronjad

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).

        

 

 

 

Not as a photograph, because I don't show the original photo, and it's good to point out here that I don't take any photos, except the photographs of the Moayer-al-Mamalek collection. I ask families to scan the photographs well, and it's important for anthropologists to have a perfect and high-quality image file. In fact, the photograph is important to us. We don't do museum stuff or photo archiving. I do not care about the maintenance, restoration, and restoration of the photographs.
The main point that we wanted describe it to the world was that  there were African slavery in Iran as well, and only photographs has approve this, and we can rely on them, and researchers think about it, consider and perform more researches. Since 2011 when I published the articles and lectured at exhibitions, a new wave of thinking about African slaves has emerged in Iran. Many students and researchers in various fields, not just photography (literature, social history, the history of slavery, storytellers, filmmakers), have been talked to me and they started their first researches with my companionship.
In 2018, a conference was held at the University of Santa Barbara in California on the subject of women in the context of Iranian society during the Qajar and contemporary eras. so, they wanted me to hold a photo exhibition of a collection of photographs of the wives of Nasser al-Din Shah inside the shrine, photographs of women during the Qajar era which were taken by Amir Dost Mohammad Moayyar-al-Mamalek, and the photographs of female black slaves during the Qajar era. During the exhibition, Mahta Omrani, a colleague of the Farhang Foundation, came to see me and suggested that we start a new project at the Farhang Foundation in Los Angeles in the subject of Iranian oral history and memories in California which was named ''Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud''. She suggested that we, together, perform the project and a few months later I went to see her and explained the project further.
I explained that, from anthropologists' point of view, three things are very important in human societies: birth, death, and marriage, which are common to all societies, and I suggested that they first choose the subject of marriage for the project. Weddings are happy moments, and Iranians all over the world not only marry Iranian people, but also non-religious and non-Iranians, and their children have their own issues in other countries, and weddings can be a matter of beauty, but a multifaceted project which is based on photography. 
I also explained that this exhibition can attract different families, especially the second and third generation families in Los Angeles and their young children, grandparents; and by this photographs and photo collections they can the importance of wedding culture is in Iranian society to their children.

3-    Are the photographs which are exhibited in this photo exhibition completely prepared from archives outside Iran? Are there any art-works and documents which are gathered in Iran?
Two categories of photographs are in this exhibition, the main part of the exhibition, not as an exhibition, has been collected by me for ten years with based on my personal interest. I exhibited wedding tablecloths, wedding cakes and wedding photos from the Qajar period to the second Pahlavi, which I had collected them over the years. All the wedding tablecloths of the exhibition, all the contracts of the Qajar era and many photographs of the exhibition are belonging to my own personal collection. When it was decided to hold the exhibition, the Culture Foundation itself decided to prepare a call and send it to the United States, and the families who liked to take and send us photos of their family photos with their mobile phones, and it was supposed to select some of them for the exhibition, and then we will ask if the families have the original photos or not. We want then if they had the original photos, send them, and if they didn't, send the high quality file and then print it on the received files. Many of the members and families of the Culture Foundation sent us their family photos, marriage documents from the second Pahlavi era, and photo collections, and final collection included my personal collection and the collection that were gathered by the call of the Culture Foundation is a collection of photos of its members.

4-    How long did it take for your research to be performed and the collection of works and objects in this exhibition to be ready for exhibition? What challenges did you face along the way?
I knew that during the period of 50-60 years of Iranian history studies in pre-modern and modern Iran, especially during the Qajar period, we had no books, exhibitions, articles, or printed photo collections about weddings in Iranian culture. Iranian culture as a wedding, is one of the religious foundations in any country, and when I talk about a wedding, I mean all the divine religions and other religions in Iran such as Shia Muslim Iranians, Sunni Muslims, Jewish, Christians, Zoroastrians, etc., as well as Iranian ethnic groups such as Turks, Baluchis, Kurds, Arabs, and the culture of Gilan, Mazandaran, Azerbaijan. Iran has a rich culture, and weddings in each of these religious cultures and groups have a number of common factors and a wide range of differences. Weddings are different in nomadic life, in rural life, and in urban life. We have no exact information about these issues. So, based on my personal interest, because I was studying about Qajar era, I started collecting these cultural materials:
Contracts, paintings, Brocade, gold embroidery, Sermeh embroidery, pearl embroidery fabrics and wedding photos which were related to the Qajar era, as well as the first and second Pahlavi eras in the hope that one day they will be exhibited.
The main vigor of this exhibition comes from here, and based on this support, we advanced the exhibition and prepared the call. 
The lack of original photographs was from the difficulties that we faced. Because the photos were in family collections, and in the 1979 revolution, many families lost their property or left their property in Iran and migrated, and the families separated, and then we experienced eight years of war between Iran and Iraq, which caused a lot of displacement. 
So the main problem was the lacks of photographs, the original collections were released and the presence of digital cameras was a much more effective factor. In this exhibition, we did not have photos which were related to recent years on the printed paper.
Another difficulty that we faced was the location of the exhibition, and fortunately the University of California gave us a good place in one of its best libraries.

5-    Are there art-works, documents, or objects which be related to the culture of wedding ceremonies before the period of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, in this exhibition?
We could not have objects, but we could have a document from the period before Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, for example, from the manuscripts of the early Qajar period to prepare wedding accessories. But it was no longer the case, the photographs of the period of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, and this is because of that photography became very popular in Iran during that period.

6. In what domain will your research on Middle Eastern culture continue? We would like to tell our readers, if possible, about your next possible projects.
I mentioned my researches in photography. In any case, I have a book about the photographs of Qajar era which considers the presence of African slaves in that period. My other book is about Amir Dost Mohammad Moayyar-al-Mamalek, and his biography, and how he brought photography to Iran. I'm in Australia right now, and my career is effected by photography, but this time it's about the children of German families whose parents came to Iran to help Iran develop the railway, construction, road construction of hospitals and trade between World War I and World War II (between 1930 and 1941) .

6-    As we have told you, our publication studies the art of West Asia and tries to deal with the culture and art of this geography from different perspectives. What challenges do you think we will face along the way? And what do you think are currently left unsaid in this area?
You should consider that your publication is a start-up publication; you have to try to have both a domestic reader and a non-Iranian reader. What we lack is between the East and Southwest Asia. You should focus on new visual arts, and if you're bilingual, try to have both Iranian and abroad audiences. If your subject matters are only in Persian language, try to have a wider readership. Attract young people, and if you're focused on photography, go to private archives and encourage archivists and family members to bring out photos, scan them, and encourage them to restore and maintain photos for future reference.

7-    Mr. Khosronejad, if you think that we have elided any important question or if you have any opinion about our publication's attitudes for West Asian art, please mention and write about them.
I believe that you should be beyond domestic issues and consider the global matters. Examine the publications which are related to contemporary photography and art, and don't repeat their work, and consider further our new indigenous arts. to know how to attract the attention of  audiences in abroad and how to deal with the artists and the art that are performed there, invite them to collaborate with your publication.