Michigan-based photographer Sheida Soleimani was raised on her parents’ stories of the Iranian Revolution. As refugees who fled the country in 1979 with the emergence of Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic republic, they passed down tales of persecution and survival that made the faraway country vivid and real to her, although she has never visited herself. With National Anthem, Soleimani negotiates her contradictory feelings about Iran’s turbulent past, present, and future with violent and visceral collages that speak both to the suffering of its people and her own feelings about being an Iranian-American woman.
Soleimani’s collages begin with family members still living in Iran; she speaks with them frequently to gage their own states of mind, and much of her imagery is culled from their social media pages. This found imagery, combined with internet clippings, then becomes a sculpture of sorts, which she translates into a photograph that preserves the frenetic aesthetic of the three-dimensional structure.
The artist pulls from various traditions and historical landmarks, merging anachronistic symbols into a single charged image. Sugar cubes, elements that she explains reference an Iranian ritual by which an animal is fed sweets before being sacrificed, stand in for the short-lived optimism of the country’s various political uprisings. Severed animal tongues similarly evidence the silencing of individual voices, and faux eyelashes become a visual synecdoche for the pervasive trend towards Western beauty ideals and plastic surgery.
When asked about the role of her own image in the series, Soleimani responds that she has not yet parsed its meaning, mentioning only that she hopes to touch on the ways in which Western audiences view the Middle East. Ultimately, National Anthem is an acute condemnation of Iran’s contemporary political structure and a frantic search for personal significance with a global conflict. Says the artist, “I feel very attached and very separate from Iran at the same time.”
All images © Sheida Soleimani