Exhibition: Amak Mahmoodian’s Zanjir is a world away from Bristol

Amak Mahmoodian’s photography exhibition Zanjir (translating to chain) opened in January and is running until the 22nd of March at Arnolfini in Bristol. The exhibition focuses on aspects that are on opposite ends of the spectrum of human existence. For example, Mahmoodian’s images link the past with the present, life with death, and bring closeness where there is distance.     

Entering the exhibition through two sets of ceiling-high curtains printed with Mahmoodian’s rolling desert scene, you are instantly thrown into a world other than Bristol. Extremes collide at the first moment you travel through the last set of curtains, from the bright, white light into the dimly lit exhibition space. Extracts of imagined conversations between the artist and Princess Taj al-Saltanah, a 19th century Iranian empress, printed straight onto the wall, lead into and between a series of photographs travelling around the room in a spiral shape. 

Photo: Ellie Potts

The series of photographs present the artist’s relatives holding historical images from early Iranian photography archives as a mask in front of their faces. In doing so, Mahmoodian gives the past a presence in the Iranian kingdom she calls home. She expresses her sorrow in being separated in distance from her family through these photographs, and perhaps what can be interpreted as her distance from a culture and way of life that the Western World does not provide. This could explain Mahmoodian’s conversations with Princess Taj al-Saltanah that decorate the blank spaces between the photographs. Princess Taj al-Saltanah fought for equality and democracy in late 19th century Iran. In the artist’s work, it is clear she feels a deep connection with the inspirational Iranian empress, and wishes to mirror her own life with al-Saltanah’s, a possible attempt to link herself back to her home country.

Throughout the exhibition, it is evident that Mahmoodian’s background shaped the artistic process that led to the production of this work. From her archival research project at the Golestan museum in central Tehran, to her connection with family members across the oceans, the exhibition uses these concepts to ooze Mahmoodian’s dedication to different aspects of her life. Aspects that share the central theme of Iran. 

Photo: Ellie Potts

Amak Mahmoodian’s art, aided with curation by Alejandro Acin (IC visual lab) and Kieran Swann (Head of Programme, Arnolfini) intrigues the viewer and captures numerous different concepts. Yet, all the components effortlessly tie together due to strong emphasis on artwork’s identity and its place in the modern world. It is not an exhibition to decipher meaning, but rather to understand the artist’s inner turmoil that led to the conceptualisation and production of the pieces. It is definitely not an exhibition to miss.    

The exhibition is free to attend at Arnolfini and will be running until the 22nd March 2020.

Featured image by Ellie Potts.

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