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Rasti’s series, There Are No Homosexuals In Iran , reveals a community caught between ongoing persecution and the promise of independence
Within 2007, during a forum held at Columbia University, New York, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously said: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. ” He afterwards went on to claim that this individual was misquoted by Traditional western media, but his remarks remain a classic example of the country’s archaic views on homosexuality. In Iran, it is seen as an illness that must be treated and, in some cases, it can be punishable by death. Such overt oppression has led individuals to flee their homeland to be able to escape persecution and ostracisation. A large majority travel on the border into Turkey, with help from NGOs such as the Iranian Queer Organization. Presently there, they find refuge in cities like Denizli within the southwest of the country, exactly where they will wait, often for many years, to be granted visas designed for Europe or North America.
It was in this liminal space, where refugees enter a prolonged purgatory, that photographer Laurence Rasti produced the images on her project, There Are No Homosexuals in Iran . Born in Swiss to Iranian parents, Rasti struggled to reconcile the differences in gender roles involving the two cultures and, subsequent years of research on gender and sexual identity, has been inspired to explore Iran’s complex relationship with homosexuality. “I discovered what was happening within Denizli in 2014 by way of a contact I made in a NGO, ” she recalls. “I came to understand that it was one of the main cities assigned in order to LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in transportation in Turkey. ”
In the girl series, Rasti photographs a little group of these asylum seekers as they attempt to settle into life in a foreign city, away from family and friends – many of whom are unaware of the real reason for their departure. Created in collaboration with her subjects, a number of her portraits are stylised with props, while others are taken in a more subtle fashion, capturing the subjects against the backdrop of the city.
Through these images, we all catch glimpses of their unique stories and individuality, instead of being depicted as faceless runaways. Rasti says it was important to those who agreed to be a part of the project: “At the beginning I wanted to show the abuse that these people had suffered in their country and in their families. But they quickly made me understand that this was not the actual wanted to communicate about on their own. Instead, they wanted to display the reason for their escape: enjoy. ”
Love permeates the particular series, tangible in the closeness between the couples and the vulnerable positions assumed by a number of the subjects. They show up playful yet sincere; a carefree spirit that contradicts the reality of their situation. Plus, the trust between professional photographer and subject is obvious. Rasti explains that this was established over long periods associated with interaction. “From the very starting, I was asked about my factors, as a heterosexual female, for starting such a project, ” she says. “It had taken a long time for trust plus friendship to develop and for myself to better understand the issues. ” She goes on to say the feeling taught her invaluable training about her position as an artist and the possible imbalances of power and incentive that can exist between the photographer and their issue. “It is an unresolved honest question of who advantages from such projects – the particular protagonists or the author. For these reasons, taking the time to really listen to your subjects seems essential. ”
Indeed, this question is usually difficult to answer with any degree of certainty, but we are able to observe in this instance an trade of sorts. For a local community fleeing a country by which their existence is frequently denied, photography can remedy the loss of identity. Rasti’s pictures give them back a sense of self, capturing them in a moment associated with pure self-expression, unfettered simply by fear. And in return, Rasti is given an opportunity to question her role and the part of photography itself within highlighting important issues and supporting marginalised groups. Reflecting on this, she says: “Now, I would do some things in a different way, thanks to all that these people have taught me. I pay much more attention to my place being a photographer and artist, to my choice of project, to what I could offer with my function, and how I can use it to benefit the people concerned. ”