Photographer Newsha Tavakolian has grown up in an Iran where a woman is banned from singing alone on a stage for a general audience. She has seen her country grow more repressive throughout her lifetime; the morality police moving to control more of women’s lives (women cannot go skiing without a male guardian as of last year or study English literature or business as of last month). Ironically all this has occurred at the same time that women attend universities at unprecedented rates, outnumbering men at institutions of higher learning in Iran.
From this emerges, “Listen.” Before one even knows the back-story, the emotion on these women’s faces is captivating. They seem to be trying to communicate something; eyelids pressed together, mouths open in silent song.
Tavakolian’s subjects are all professional singers whose lives are limited by Islamic tenet. Some sing only background vocals, another has performed outside of Iran, and two others sing at women’s parties to earn income. It took almost a year to convince them to be photographed, so fearful were they about getting in trouble, Tavakolian explained over email. She chose the sparkly backdrop to make it look as though each woman was performing on an old Iranian television show before the revolution, when such things were possible. Their mouths are open, mid-song. But we cannot hear them.
Tavakolian, who has been working a as a photographer since age 16, is part of Rawiya, a collective of female photographers from the Middle East.
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