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Exhibition and lecture series: The Eye of the Shah

The Eye of the Shah: Qajar Court Photography and the Persian Past presents some 200 photographic prints, a number of vintage photographic albums, and memorabilia that utilized formal portraiture of the shah, the exhibition shows how photographers—many of them engaged by Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848-1896), the longest reigning Shah of the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925)— ultimately created a portrait of the country's ancient and recent past . Most of the photographs in the exhibition have never been publicly displayed.

The Eye of the Shahn includes unprecedented photographs of life in the royal court in Tehran, such as images of the last shahs of the Qajar Dynasty, their wives and children, and court entertainers. These are complemented by photographs of iconic ancient monuments and sites, such as Persepolis and Naqsh-e Rostam, capturing Iran’s expansive and rich historical past. The photographers also depicted the Iran of their day through images of the military, the railway, and the postal system, while the daily lives of Iranian people was revealed through photographs showing shopkeepers, street vendors, and field workers. Additionally, The Eye of the Shah features pieces by two modern-day Iranian photographers, Bahman Jalali (1944-2010) and Shadi Ghadirian (b. 1974), who evoke and sometimes incorporate images of photography from the Qajar Dynasty, illustrating the continuing and powerful influence that Iranian photography of 19th and early 20th century photography has in the country’s contemporary art world.

This exhibition was organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and made possible by the generous support of the Selz Foundation, the David Berg Foundation, Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, and the Leon Levy Foundation. Special loans provided by the Kimia Foundation and the Collection of Azita Bina and Elmar W. Seibel.

Further details: http://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/shah

October 22, 2015-January 17, 2016, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 East 84th St., New York, NY 10028. Gallery Hours: Wednesday-Sunday 11am-6pm, Friday 11am-8pm, Closed Monday and Tuesday

Public Events

Each will have a reception to follow and RSVP is required. RSVP 212.992.7800 or isaw.nyu.edu/rsvp

Thursday, October 29, 2015
Nasseredin Shah and his 84 Wives
Beate Petersen, Film Director and Producer
Film Screening, 6 pm
In 1842 the 11 year-­old heir to the Persian throne received a camera from Queen Victoria of England. The young heir fell in love with the magical contraption. In the following decades he documented his life, revealing to the public eye, what it was never supposed to see. “Nasseredin Shah and his 84 Wives” is based on the photos taken by the Shah himself, as well as by his court. With the addition of animated sequences, it tells the story of the rivalry and intrigues within the harem, the murders, the corruption, the political power struggle, the murders, and of Persia’s troubled relation to Europe. The documentary focuses on an aspect that is all too often overlooked: that is, the influential role played by women in the origins of modern Iran.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015
The Discursive Spaces of Qajar Photography
Mirjam Brusius, University of Oxford
Public Lecture, 6 pm
When the mid-­19th Century European travellers documented Persia’s heritage with a photographic camera, many compiled albums that came to have ubiquitous aesthetic and political functions. Consequently, in the 20th century, some of the albums ended up in different discursive spaces: some can be found in state archives as diplomatic gifts compiled by the Shah, some became indispensable tools for archaeologists, others were admired by Islamic art curators in museums for their lacquerwork bindings. This lecture explores some of the fascinating biographies of these albums, including the impact they still have today.

Thursday, December 3, 2015
Qajar Photography and Contemporary Iranian Art
Layla S. Diba, Independent Scholar and Art Advisor
Public Lecture, 6 pm

Thursday, December 17, 2015
Ancient Persianisms: Persepolitan Motifs in 19rh Century Qajar Persia
Judith A. Lerner, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World
Public Lecture, 6 pm
Pre-­Islamic imagery—specifically that of the Achaemenid (c. 550-­330 BCE) and Sasanian (224-­651 CE) dynasties—had remained strong in the art of Islamic Iran (post-­651 CE); the major pictorial themes of razm u bazm (fighting and feasting), along with hunting and enthronement, continued through successive Islamic dynasties in painting, metalwork, ceramics and textiles, all artistic media that were prominent in pre-­Islamic Iran. But one medium of the pre-­Islamic period had all but disappeared: monumental relief sculpture carved into living rock. This ancient artistic medium had been dormant for more than a millennium when it was revived under the second Qajar ruler, Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797-­1834). During his reign all but one of the eight known Qajar rock reliefs were carved; after his reign—except for one relief executed in 1878 by his great-­grandson, Naser al-­Din Shah (r. 1848-­1896)—monumental sculptured reliefs were no longer made. Instead, relief carving on a much smaller scale was used for embellishing the stone foundations of Qajar buildings. The stylistic and iconographic contrasts between these two modes of sculptural expression is striking: the earlier Qajar reliefs draw upon those of the Sasanians, the last Persian dynasty before the Muslim conquest, and feature enthronement and hunting scenes, while the later ones quote those of the earlier Achaemenids, specifically images from their capital city, Persepolis. What brought about this change? In this talk I offer some reasons for this shift from Sasanian to Achaemenid imagery and propose that it stemmed, in great part, from the desire in Iran to forge a modern national identity that drew upon Iran’s imperial pre-­Islamic past. Select photographic examples of these reliefs and monuments which provided the inspiration for the Qajar pieces, and which form part of ISAW’s exhibition, Eye of the Shah: Royal Court Photography and the Persian Past, will be discussed in the context of “Persianisms.”

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