Atessa Farmanfarmaian

Tajdeed, A Collection of Self Portraits

Laleh koochooloo” he would say, “ba mooyeh ferferi va cheshmahay ke gondetar azmah” or in English, “Little tulip, with curls painted in gold and eyes bigger than the moon.” My grandfather–or to me, Baba– would hold me tight reciting the Farsi hymn while the six year old me would relentlessly contend. Twenty three years old today, I would do anything to go back and embrace the hugs of my late Baba. Genetically speaking, Persian blood circulates through my veins. Culturally, I define myself as a privileged American women who is distanced from the lineage I am akin to. Descendants of the Qajar dynasty, my family lived a fortunate and untroubled life prior to the 1978 Iranian revolution. However, since the migration of my family and the division amongst the country, understanding my heritage has been rather difficult. Baba, regardless of losing the land he once called home, continued to speak of his country in high regard pressing me to value and be knowledgeable of my roots.

Prior to taking the Special Collections Archives class, I was fairly unaware and disengaged from my background. My research originally stemmed from my interests in fashion photography and evolved into a project that would inherently transform me. After a visit to the de Young Museum in San Francisco, I was especially inspired by the Muslim Contemporary Fashion Exhibition and decided to pursue questioning my cultural assumptions rather than try to answer them. Utilizing the archives allowed me to become familiar with the traditions of my culture and cultivated an understanding with the feelings I once remember Baba faintly expressing.

Title, is a collection of self portraits that symbolize the juxtaposition of disconnection and connection I experience towards my heritage. Each 35mm photograph contains an element of the seven different components displayed at Haft seen. In Iran, the New year or in Farsi, Nowruz, begins with the advent of spring. When the 1979 revolution ceased with Persia becoming the Islamic Republic of Iran, the new government tried to scale back the level to which Nowruz is celebrated. In a nation that was fragmented to the point of revolt, the prospect of losing Nowruz prompted furious pushback that was too overwhelming to brush aside. Haft seen is a traditional table setup that is displayed with a collection of items symbolizing renewal and a different hope for the new year.  Each of the elements I have chosen to incorporate within my photographs bear a specific interpretation that I have defined below. Including these elements not only symbolizes the connection to my Persian descent but also acts as the physical tribute to the renewal of a lost relationship. The shawl I have used in order to disguise my identity is a reenactment of the barrier that lies between myself and my culture.

I have only scraped the surface into understanding my cultural identity and the many stories I have yet to discover. With that, I harbor a sweet and exciting venture relating to this quarter’s archival findings that I plan to embark on in my future works. And though Baba is no longer with me, I dedicate this project to him for inspiring me to run with my curiosity and harness my intellectual ability to question and challenge myself with thoughts and ideas. For it is better to question than remain ignorant.

“Tulips are delicate flowers by nature. A mild wind properly timed can prove fatal. But tulips do not die. They are perennial. Between blooms, they prepare.” - activist, Melody Moezzi

Tulip– Symbol of rebirth

Vinegar– Symbol of patience and wisdom that comes with aging

Saffron– Symbol for abundance, quest for truth

Gold fish– Symbol of Life

Garlic– Symbol of medicine and taking care of oneself

Sprouts– Symbol rebirth and renewal