Afsaneh Aynesazi

MFA ’20 Photography

As an Iranian woman, I have at times found myself at odds with the limits of representation inherent in fixed images. One moment captured beautifully can reduce a whole population to one objectifying or essentializing representation. Yes, the artful lens and the flawless print can be oppressive. I feel the oppression of the exoticized and essentialist images as they create expectations of who I and other Iranian women supposedly are.

I make images concerned with the nuanced identities of women in contemporary Iran. I seek to disrupt binaries prevalent in photography of non-western subjects: traditional/modern, East/West, veiled/unveiled, free/oppressed. In these works, I use an approach at the intersection of photography, collage, and glass that breaks fixed images to display the nuances inherent within an Iranian woman’s cosmopolitan reality. The themes of judgment and of a coercive gaze manifest in the work through the symbols of the eyes and the lens. I explore such leering judgments as oppressive tools used to force women into different molds: for instance Western imperial gazes can reduce women to victims, domestic authoritarian gazes can reduce them to moral threats, and patriarchal stares may reduce them to objects of desire.

While such oppressive peering is invisible, it is a force that fills empty space and is felt on women’s bodies. Glass frames such empty spaces giving it materiality, while simultaneously depicting women’s bodies as dismembered by such gazes and reduced to symbols that render their reality almost invisible.

Afsaneh Aynesazi (b.1983) is an Iranian artist based in the US. Her journey in art began in her childhood with her grandfather Ostad Esmail Arjang–the renowned father of Iranian sculpting and etching. Afsaneh works at the intersection of photography and mixed media. Through collage work, she problematizes objectifications inherent within photographic representation to depict the nuanced realites of Iranian women. Her work frames ever-present coercive gazes upon women’s bodies, showing the power of that gaze to dismember and reduce women’s bodies to objects of desire.