The Maxiature series intervene and interject issues from contemporary culture into a traditional art form by way of photography. Highly sophisticated pieces of visual language, Persian miniatures often explore the tension between public and private spaces. They also offer the viewer idealized vignettes from daily life behind the walls of aristocratic court culture. The Maxiature series expands on this premise of opening up the private spaces of homes to give the audience a privileged view of contemporary Islamic culture. This rupture occurs on two levels: that of the medium, whereby photography intervenes in the tradition of painted miniatures, as well as on the level of the narrative itself, with incongruous and at times humorous results.
Persian miniatures traditionally depict court spectacles, scenes of the hunt and battle, grand receptions and amorous encounters between persons who are more typologies than individuals. The figures in Maxiatures, though, are sourced from both staged and documentary images. By blurring the line between reality and fiction, the Maxiatures hint at a tension between traditional Islamic society and imported, Western influences. A region too often depicted in black and white is revealed as colorful, complex and carnivalesque as any, where old and new values, East and West can collide in dialogue. Via the mash-up of contemporary culture and historical fiction, the challenges facing Islam and modernity are played out in the composition and the very medium of the miniature.
My work aims to add further layers of complexity and interpretation to subject matter–be it Islam, modernity, or youth culture–often depicted in a monolithic manner. The Islamic arts, from their preference for decoration over figuration, to the production of the art itself, challenge the very understanding we have in the West of both art and the artist. The tradition of miniatures are exemplary of this. Essentially secular compositions, they are rare examples of figurative work aimed for an exclusively courtly audience. The Maxiatures highlight this paradox by demystifying contemporary life in the Islamic Republic of Iran: not only bringing the intimacy of the private sphere out into the public but translating them to an international audience via the collective experience of globalization.
By adding further layers to the existing fabric of the original miniature, I intend to draw a line of continuity between the content and crafts of the 15th century through to the 21st century. Miniatures were made by a workshop of artisans of cosmopolitan influences: from Mughal to Persian to Arab. Via the Maxiatures, I hope to contribute to the collaborative nature of these pieces, bringing a further, creolized understanding of Western and Middle Eastern identity to the sophisticated nature of these originals.
Through the visual juxtaposition of cityscapes and desert landscapes, the series The Desert Beyond the City Belongs to Me tells the story of cultural and political life in 21st century Iran, in all its rich complexity. Reminiscent of Breughel and Bosch landscapes, this series stages a dizzying range of events, from Peeping Toms in Iran’s segregated beaches to protesters filling the streets of Tehran. Colliding dynamic urban conditions with the ritualistic practices of the remote, rural Middle East, The Desert Beyond the City Belongs to Me seamlessly speaks to larger geopolitical issues. An example of such an issue can be found in the protest movement that followed the highly contested 2009 Iranian presidential election. Not only did this public outcry foreshadow the greater region’s “Arab Spring,” (a term given to the widespread wave of demonstrations, protests, and wars occurring during the still ongoing Arab Revolution), but it also brought to the surface an underlying tension at the very heart and name of the country itself: between a republic and a theocracy, between public and private, between the secular and the sacred, all as found in Sharifi’s work. By bringing elements of traditional Persian iconography together with contemporary subjects, The Desert series approaches these complex issues with a compelling collapse of time and space.