Here's a short interview with Amak Mahmoodian for the Activating the Archive symposium in Bristol on
Amak Mahmoodian made the universal personal in her book of passport and identity images, Shenasnameh, a book where the function of the identity images overlaps with autobiography, dress, and visual systems of control. A connected but very different process is evident in Neghab, a project where the unique and revealing archive pictures of Nasser al-Din Shah are revitalised in contemporary private, public, and palace settings. See more of Amak's work here.
What has led you to working with archival material?
My connection with archival material is deeply personal. When I was quite young I loved to have conversations, silent conversations, with my family photographs. I loved to create memories within the photograph, with the person in the photo, because I didn't have any memory or at least good memories to awake. Old family albums became my magic carpet, I could fly with my family photographs wherever I wanted, with the people who I loved and was missing.
In 2004, I visited the Golestan museum and started to work on my academic archival research for 2 years. Golestan Archives are in central Tehran, which was once a home for Qajars, as well as the king’s wives, Harem women. I decided to use some of these old historical photographs as talking points as they had unlimited things to say.
How do you activate archives within your practice?
In my practice, I decided to tell my stories through the others, the others who lived in the past and whose lives and stories still exist in the present. I looked at the archival photographs from the Qajar period and chose a number of photographs, which I used as masks.
Which faces would have to be concealed behind these historical masks? I started taking photographs of people around me, whom I saw every day. In some photo’s there were so many masks on a face that I forget the real face. Archival materials mythicized the absence and presence in my work.
In a post-digital world, what role do physical archives play?
Archives stay and move, they stay with many stories within them. I need to recall my past to realise who I am today, archives represent the past in every moment of the present, we breath the past and carry our archival memories with us in our daily lives. They never hide, they share. They build a bridge between yesterday and today. We can reframe our past to tell today’s stories, to explore the similarities and the differences. Above of all we listen to the archives to bring their voice to our lives, to tell their stories among ours, old or new.
Briefly, what can we expect from your talk?
I am looking forward to telling you about journey to the past. The past that once upon time was the present.
'The mask can hide the woman’s face but it can not hide the ‘truth’ which is behind the mask.'
Amak Mahmoodian will be talking about all this and much more on Saturday 5th May at the Arnolfini in Bristol in this brilliant symposium on the archive with speakers including Maja Daniels, Vicki Bennett, Francesca Seravalle Charbel Saad, Thomas Sauvin, Kensuke Koike, and Amak Mahmoodian.
Buy your tickets for ICVL's Activating the Archive here.