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An Expression of Identity, Not the Identity itself.

An Expression of Identity, Not the Identity itself.

This week’s theme is titled “Female Guidelines”.
Through visual stories, our curators research the question “In what ways are female guidelines being challenged?”

When thinking of ‘female guidelines’, phenomena such as beauty standards come to mind, or internalised behaviour as an outcome of gender socialisation and gender role expectations. The project Shenasnameh (2016) by Amak Mahmoodian reflects written guidelines set up by the Iranian government, that influence different parts of the life of Iranian women.

Shenasnameh is the name of the official Iranian birth certificate, which also serves as an ID. It is the main identity document issued to everyone at birth and subsequently used to record a marriage, divorce, the status of children, and ultimately the death of a person. It contains basic personal details, a photograph of the person it identifies and a fingerprint. A shenasnameh is valid for life, but the photograph is added at the age of 15 and must be renewed by 30. According to the official standards, if a woman’s appearance is not ‘correct’, then the photograph will not be accepted.

For a woman in Iran, the making of this photograph is a personally charged affair. Strict standards control the creation of this image. All women must wear headscarves (showing no hair), their faces must be without makeup and unsmiling. Any deviations from these guidelines will be summarily rejected. When it was time for Mahmoodian to be photographed for her own shenasnameh, she realised that all Iranian women ’were being made to look the same’. The various headshot photographs and fingerprints that Mahmoodian collected seem to be the same from a distance, all women veiled in a black headscarf. The strict presentation rules stripping the sitters of their personal features and identities. But soon, despite the outward similarity of the images, the differences start to appear: a glance, a frown, a glimpse of a smile.

The Shenasnameh project is about identity and the image of Iranian women. ’I’ is a feeling, an expression of identity, but not an identity itself. Contradictory identities exist within everyone. Yet, before there is the possibility to define our own identities, an identity has been decided on and defined by others. It is others who accept or reject the identity we have created. However, with this project, Amak aims to show the world that these women are still more than plain faces with a headscarf and tackle feelings of pity towards Persian women. These women are silent but they are not voiceless. They always find a way to represent and to show very slight parts of their identity to differentiate themselves, even with the strict guidelines in place for women to take such photographs.

Despite the outward similarity of the women and images, the fingerprints are all different and unique.

Check out Amak Mahmoodian’s full body of work at https://www.amakmahmoodian.co.uk or on Instagram @amak_mahmoodian.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

Our weekly themes always include three photo series by different photographers. Are you interested and do you want to stay posted?

Make sure to follow us on Instagram @wearecurators.

Written by Noura Oul Fakir

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