Two years ago, Tahmineh Monzavi began targeting the Balochistan region, the western part of which belongs to Iran. There, the photographer met Afro-Iranians, who were once sold into slavery and now live there as foreigners. His series talks about migration, adaptation and cultural differences, and reflects on how people try to preserve their roots and traditions despite the passage of time.
Afro-Iranians: what fascinates you about this topic and what did you want to show?
As an Iranian photographer, my interests, passions and experience have been motivated by the everyday life of human beings in Iranian society. In the last five years my work has concentrated on the roles of women in urban and rural cultures, especially in the coastal provinces of the Persian Gulf, including Sistan, Balochistan, Hormozagan and Bushehr. I focused particularly on various aspects of life in the Afro-Iranian community, known aszngis. They were imported into Iran before the 19th century by Arab slave traders from the coast of southeast Africa, in an area roughly comprising what is now Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. In my photographs I would like to reveal the contrast between the life of the Afro-descendants and the indigenous inhabitants of Balochistan.
What is life like for Afro-Iranians there today?
Wherever Afro-Iranians settled on the southern shores of Iran, they took over the language, accent, and religion of the region. Until half a century ago, older members of the community still remembered the migration stories. However, what they have not forgotten are the cultural memories they brought back from their homeland, which have had a great impact on the culture of the southern region of Iran. Afro-Iranians have mainly influenced the music of the people of the southern coasts of Iran. It is safe to say that the most prominent ritual among Afro-Iranians is the tradition ofczarorgowati, which is the practice of exorcising various spirits from possessed individuals. ThegowatiThe ceremony includes food offerings and musical performances, culminating in an ecstatic dance, which lasts between three and seven nights. Women play the most prominent roles in this ceremony.
Women are also at the center of your photographic series…
Yes, in this project I am focusing on Afro-Iranian women and their social roles and participation in the culture of Balochistan. I lived among them and studied their oral traditions for a while. Through my images, I try to show two main themes: first, how these women have remained isolated from the development of the modern state system; and second, how they have maintained their cultural practices while adjusting to the new diaspora environment.
How did you approach these women?
Being a woman allowed me access to women-only spaces, but it did not necessarily ensure that I was free to take pictures. Hijabs among the locals have gone beyond the norm, and in some cases women wearniqabsand cover their faces completely. I had to get permission to photograph women, especially when they were smoking shisha, one of the few activities they can do like men.I was told that shisha smoking was female and opium smoking was male. Meanwhile, being a woman, she was subject to limitations on visiting male-dominated places and events. Although such limitations for women always existed; for example, women are not allowed to visit the mosque or tombs…
Your images are often portraits of the protagonists. What do the faces say?
He was more interested in their stories than documenting what was visible to the naked eye. My focus is mostly on women. My work is marked by compositions that narrate portraits that equally represent individuals, communities, and their environments. Finding and being found by their gazes, my lens captures flowing moments of vulnerability and repose.
Your images are reminiscent of fairy tales, of traditional stories. What do you pay attention to in color and surroundings?
After a while, I noticed the importance of color, as it not only increases the representation of her femininity and unified colorful dresses, but also helps bring out many delicate details within the rough surroundings.
Light plays an important role in your photographs. What can you do?
I have tried to use daylight and light from windows. Later, I decided to experiment with flash lights to get sharper images and create the effect of stage photography. At the same time, he didn’t want the women to feel uncomfortable. It was a risk that worked aesthetically. My main focus was on capturing his portraits.
Born in Tehran in 1988,Tahmineh MonzaviHe is a photographer with a social conscience. She started her professional career as a documentary photographer in 2005. In her professional life, with her photography and a harmonious approach to her environment and her time, Tahmineh has created her own style to capture and explore the fields of fine art and documentary photography. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and has also been published by magazines such as The New York Times, Le Figaro, and Elle. Discover more about her photography in herswebsiteandInstagram channel.
PostingAfro-Iranians in Balochistanfirst appeared inThe Leica Camera Blog.