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You Have to be Someone Else

A talk about identity, misunderstandings and that hair doesn’t make any sound

Ghazaleh Hedayat is one of six Iranian female photographers showing her work in Cicero Gallery in Berlin - “Made in Tehran”


Berlin, December 2009. Open and charming, Ghazaleh Hedayat approaches cheerfully, her beige scarf loosely around her shoulders, her curly dense hair bound to a tight knot in her nape. It is 8 o’clock in the morning life in the hotel lobby is busy already, the coffee machine is whooshing, cutlery jingling, hasty high heels clicking over the parquet flooring accompanied by the clacking of a roller-case. The 28-year old Iranian looks fresh, her coal-painted eyes beam with joy in her pale and pretty face although she couldn’t sleep last night as she immediately says. Irmgard Berner met her, just before she left for Tehran.

Tender and agile Ghazaleh Hedayat tries to tear the scarf across her head, suddenly stops her movement – no, we are not in Tehran, we are in Berlin. Here she doesn’t have to cover her head.Her English is fluent with a slight American accent.

Ghazaleh, has this trip to Berlin been special for you? Or do you often have situations and exhibitions like this one in Cicero Gallery?

I had exhibitions before, also outside of Iran, but this time it was very packed, a lot of mass media, a lot of people who would ask questions. Yes, this time was definitely different. And at the same time it was very interesting, because you want to make new contact with new people; they are very nice. And there are lots of misunderstandings that you want to correct.

What were the worst misunderstandings?

They would ask about women in Iran, how they live, is it difficult to be a photographer. We want to show another side of Iran, you know, we are normal, we are just like people. So it was good, we were here because we could just talk with each other. I have misunderstandings for here, as well, through mass media, and they just talk

And you now see that people are normal here as well?

ImageExactly, they are not judging us, they are not like singers – from a bar – we are equal. So that’s good.

You studied in the United States. Do you still have connections there and is it difficult to keep them up?

Yeah, I still have my friends, we still have connections, we e-mail each other and I also have my professor – no, it is not hard and it’s interesting. It was such a great experience, when I was there – the best experience I ever had. I wouldn’t go there again, I wouldn’t want to repeat it, it was enough for me, but it was great. Very nice people, very nice environment in general.

In San Francisco

Yes, and the atmosphere was amazing.

The other day at the panel you said the internet was very weak, is it very filtered?

It’s filtered, and if I compare it to here, it’s slow, in general for a lot of people. And you cannot open a lot of websites.

How do you manage to open them?

We can break the filters, have anti-filters. So you install those on your computer, and then they will be found by state search machines, and you have to buy another one. And usually we – because we are artists - don’t want to go to political websites – but want to see arts. So we find our ways. As long as its not political …

Do you feel privileged? In society in general, but also in the milieu you grew up?

Privileged? I have never thought about it. I don’t want to feel privileged. I think I’m just like other people, normal. To be honest I am not satisfied about life. Sometimes I feel that I am like very way behind of what I have to be. I still need to try hard, - no I’m not satisfied about myself, I don’t see myself privileged. I am glad, I had those experiences, but they were not enough.

How do you estimate the political situation? Or do you try to just not reflect it?

We are not in a good situation, all people are kind of scared, you know. We don’t need another war, because we have experienced it for eight years, Now we are in a kind of frozen situation: nobody invests there, nobody wants to do anything – we are just waiting for something that we don’t know what it is. I don’t know – it’s not a good situation. Everyone has a question-mark in his mind. It’s not a good situation at all.

And the social and environmental situation? We get such bad stories here …but it must still be beautiful?

Yeah its both sides, there is lots of ugly sides, that’s very normal for me, but when I go outside, people ask: How come that women cannot smoke in schools, but men can smoke. When I’m there, in Iran, it’s normal, but when I’m outside, it all seams very strange, you know. Also when you go to the sea, it’s divided and you have specific times when women can go there and men cannot. I mean I can understand it: we are very religious and we like tradition. But when you go outside you keep asking those questions, very normal things, that you are used to. So there is ugly stuff and there are beautiful and interesting sides. Living is just totally different inside and outside, - and I love it! You are two exactly different persons, personalities – you don’t see one personality from one person, you know, - when you go to his or her home – it’s another one. When you go outside, it is totally different.

When you go to somebody’s home, do they ignore the rules?

ImageNo, but they wear something else, they do whatever they want. Not that I’m saying they cannot do what they want when they are outside – it’s just different. They have to respect the rules, you know, - and you have to be someone else – what can you do?

Is that what inspires you? In your photography?

Exactly, that’s why lots of artists work on their identity, because it is very complicated there and also when they are over there or when they come here they keep asking questions – and we are totally lost. We are searching for our identity. When I was in the US – that was very interesting part for me – I didn’t know myself that much, and oh I like this stuff! I didn’t know that when I was back there, and I totally forgot about myself ...

Is it a different kind of reflection of, about yourself? How important is yourself at the moment?

When you are in Iran, it’s different, you don’t think about yourself very much, it’s just always like playing roles, you know, it’s very complicated – you don’t have time for yourself. A lot of traditional stuff – because of people and how they are restricted – you just have to play a role in front of them, you are not yourself. When you are INSIDE, when you live by yourself, when you are inside your HOME – you are another one, and then you have time for yourself, you think about yourself. But then again tomorrow, when you go OUTSIDE – it’s all gone! It’s just very different. When you meet friends … Yes, you find people, you can make connections, you can understand each other, you are in the same situation.

What are the signs you use when you go outside, in behaving or the veil or clothing or …

Everything! Let’s start with my family: when I go to my grandma’s house, I just cannot be myself, - it is different, even when you are with your family – you cannot be honest, cause they cannot accept it.

They don’t understand the way you live?

The way I live, the way I want to live, you know, you just have to fight for every single thing! And you have to lie! And there is a lot of pressure on you – I am not talking about the government – because people are very religious and traditional, in general. My parents are kind of open-minded, When you are OUTSIDE, god, its just nice to put all that stuff aside AND BE YOURSELF and BREATH. That can be very inspiring, because you have to fight for everything, you have to put lots of METAPHORES in your work, you have to play ROLES, This makes you very strong!

That’s tough!

It’s tough, yeah. You usually don’t think about it, cause otherwise it would be very difficult, when I sit I wish I could be myself!

Now I know why you don’t feel privileged – there are so many fights you have to struggle in your normal life just to get the basics what …

… what you want to wear, what you – just little things - and oh, she’s gonna get angry! I’m not gonna wear that in front of her! When I go to my aunts’ house, for example. I cannot whatever … whatever …

So, as an artist you are searching …


What are your next projects?

I’m still working on it – it’s mostly on silence and how I can make sounds out of silence. I’m working on my hair, the sound of my hair, it doesn’t have any sound, but I just want to reflect how it can make sound. Its an installation, its not photography.

Is it acoustic?

ImageIt’s an installation, that’s all I can say, its no picture, its not two-dimensional,  more a kind of sculpture; I made a video. You can feel it, you can see it through your eyes, and you can hear it through your eyes. That’s what I’m trying to, yes. It’s not like a sound-project, it’s only visual. But you have to feel the sound of it. Cause hair doesn’t have sound.

Is the idea that you can hear your hair inside your head?

I just want to show that it’s silent, that it doesn’t make any sound – I don’t know, maybe you have to see it or maybe I’m nut, maybe I couldn’t make it, laughs, so we talk about it later when its done.

Things often get developed by doing them, by making them.

Exactly. I am not sure about it yet, and in the process it’s gonna get changed a lot,

Its an experiment?

Yes and something I need to work with my hands. I just need it. It’s not only about your eyes and photography. I respect photography a lot, because of theoretical stuff, but in general I do also have to work with my hands.

Do you paint?

I used to, I miss it a lot. I cook!

What about your everyday life? How is it apart from being an artist, a photographer? Are you married?

No, I’m not. I’m single; I’m the only one who is single in this group.

Is it time to get married?

There is an expression in Farsi, which means: when you get old, and you are not married, it means that you are rotten. – I’m soon getting rotten. Laughs. I have got to do something – that’s why I’m going back there again laughs

Are there nice guys?

Yeah, like everywhere. It’s a little bit different in Iran: people keep asking you: why are you not married, and then your parents ask you … It’s more traditional. Teheran is a bit more liberal, but when you go to small cities, they go: what? You are 28 and you are not married? No, I’m not ready for that.

Thank you for the interview.

Imagephotos: iberner| ©nurart

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