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The Ambiguous Presence of Meaning by Koujash Admin is from the first survey of contemporary Iranian photography presented in the United States. At the Katherine E. Nash Gallery through April 8.

Persian Silver: Contemporary Photography from Iran

By Pauline Oo

Published on March 11, 2004

In Ruins and Baby, you see the ravages of war. In self-portrait, you see parts that make up a woman-her nose, her hands, her husband and three children. And in an untitled piece, 35 eyes look in every direction, including straight at you. The 80 images in "Persian Silver: Contemporary Photography from Iran" hang on the walls of the University's Katherine E. Nash Gallery, as a collaboration between University associate art professor Gary Hallman and Ali Rex Sami-Azar, director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art.

"There is a tremendous amount of layering in each photograph," says Hallman. "Nothing you see is clear cut, because either the photographer has to be careful about what he or she wants to say [due to political, religious, or social concerns] or the photographer wants us to think about something in a different way."

While exhibiting his work in Tehran in 2001, Hallman struck up a friendship with Sami-Azar and they agreed to work together on an exhibit. Hallman returned to Tehran to help choose the photographs by 20 Iranian photographers. "I walked through as many studios as [Sami-Azar] could line up," says Hallman. "It was a treat to talk with the artists at their workplaces--in some cases, these were their homes--instead of seeing their portfolios all laid out in a room in the museum."

A panel discussion featuring Hamid Severi, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art curator, a University art history graduate student, and several Twin Cities artists will take place on Tuesday, March 9, at 7 p.m. in the Nash gallery. The panel will talk about the work in the Persian Silver exhibit and how it compares to other photography in the U.S. and around the world.

The Katherine E. Nash Gallery is located on the University's West Bank Arts Quarter at 405 21st Ave. S., Minneapolis. Admission is free. Gallery hours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. To learn more about the gallery, including "Wallpiece," a concurrent multimedia exhibit by artist Gary Hill, see

Americans in the United States have not seen a survey of contemporary photography from Iran by such a large group of artists in nearly 25 years, says Hallman. "Iran is a country that's been out of our political arena since the revolution in 1979," he says. "Our relationship has been distant and cool, but the doors are opening to international exhibit exchanges." Sami-Azar and Hallman chose the name Persian Silver to reflect the people of Iran and the silver emulsions used in the photographic process. (Once called Persia, Iran became the country's official name in 1935, though the names remain interchangeable.) "This is an opportunity for Minnesotans to experience the vision and thought of Iranian artists at a timely historical juncture," says Hallman. "Everyone [who visits the exhibit] will come away with different reactions because of their different histories and life experiences. My hope is that everyone will be challenged by some of the mysteries that the photographs provoke."

The show is on display at the gallery through April 8. An American exhibit featuring 20 photographers from the Twin Cities is scheduled to appear at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art later this year.

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