“Matriarchs / Archives” (Works from the 1990s), Introduction
After the passing of my maternal grandfather I inherited several boxes of old black and white family photos and his hi-res flatbed photo scanner. I recalled it to be something he did frequently, scanning family photos, with what limited knowledge he had of the computer. To begin where he left off, scanning, almost in passing, my old family photos, I began to uncover conversations, mannerisms, thoughts dissolved in the black and white gelatin photos of my ancestors. The act itself became a sort of meditation, a channel for understanding innuendos and mannerisms, facial structures similarities and differences between family members. With the archiving of my family’s past I began to discover the fibers of different narratives that begin to play out socially between family members, ones that can only be seen in chronology, although being a millisecond captured in the woven history of time.
In a world of all too much noise from content and images (2015), a photograph can feel fleeting. We live in a selfie induced, incessant time/memory-stamping society - documenting breaths, steps (literally, i.e. fitbit), and thoughts (within 120 characters) we make. Our memories fail us and we rely on the crutches of documentation to archive the most fleeting memories.
The scarcity of documentation of the era and time of those black and white photographs became something of a novelty for my meditative and droning archiving experience. Until, at one point, I discovered a photograph which held an understanding of what my identity reflected. A black and white image of my grandmother and grandfather, newlywed in their teens, and framed on the wall behind them a needlepoint embroidery piece. This embroidered piece jogged my memory in several directions until it brought me to my mother’s body of fashion work she has been doing since I was younger - an olive gown with the same needlepoint embroidery on the bodice. I took the photograph to my mother, with a lot of questions, and almost nonchalantly and matter-of-factly she pointed me to the dress, the original piece made by my grandmother, made when my grandmother was 14, adorned as the entire bodice of the gown. It was in that moment the greater discussion of our identity as third and fourth generation couturiers truly materialized. Although a proper celebration of this gown and photograph, and similar works, was not made until “Heritage / Archives”, 2014, the discovery immediately catapulted a need to archive not only the collected and handmade textiles by my grandmother and great-grandmother, but the gowns that my mother had made of those family heirloom textiles in the 1990s.
Unbeknownst to many, my childhood years working for and collaborating with my mother, and working backstage behind fashion shows and working in my mother’s atelier growing up was more along the lines of labour than it was leisure. My contempt towards fashion, in its entirety, reflects this circumstance - the current state of fashion, its excess, its access, its lack of purpose, reason, cause, and narration, all reflect my many years later of reluctance to even partake in a world with so much ego and greed - as I often still do. But the realization that there was an ulterior guiding force directing me towards this identity also became a reality after discussions with my great-aunt (my maternal grandmother’s sister) confiding in me that even her mother (my maternal great-grandmother) sewed and embroidered every day and impressed on her children to sew and embroider every hour of every day - an almost direct parallel to my youth.
“ / Archives “ started as a purpose, a calling, an almost hunch to affirm my identity with a medium I fall upon often for storytelling - photography. As well as being an opportunity to return to my mixed-media experimentation with painting on photographs while in studio at UC Berkeley, this series was research driven; I began to dig for pieces that, literally, were stuffed into a suitcase during the ’79 Iranian Revolution that were made or collected by my grandmother and/or great-grandmother, and which my mother made into gowns, from the same textiles, in the 1990s. My mother’s nonchalance in creating these garments in the 1990s from these family heirlooms, as well as a combination of her and my firm belief that these garments are to never be sold commercially, but celebrated as the family’s past, became a driving force for conviction towards a project, something I’ve needed for a very long time.
Later being dubbed “Heritage / Archives”, the series that began with the olive gown, “Matriarchs /Archives” goes deeper into investigating more into the archives and draping them as backdrops, like the backdrop of my own existence. Not too long ago my mother, in passing, mentioned to me that at the dawn of the Revolution, my grandmother decided to leave all her fine jewelry and home artworks with close friends in Tehran, to make room only for suitcases of the family heirlooms, all the textiles, made by herself and her mother. Those goods eventually came to be lost – nowhere to be found. The gilding onto these photographed prints have come to be in a sort of retribution for the luxury lost upon my matriarchy’s exile; it is a consolation for that suffering, and for that sacrificial act of ubiquitous emigration, so that my mother and I could exorcise, and atone for, that expatriated suffering.
I grew up with my mother often referring to her fabrics and gowns as her “children”, and in many ways the garments and textiles became fellow playmates, like sisters to me as her only child - and so, each nymph came to be my mother’s unsung daughters. My research and dedication to my mother's and grandmother’s will is an ode to her and their own, prioritizing over their family’s heirlooms. And the most tragically beautiful aspect of all my explorations are that these same narratives occur in the fabrics of everyone’s identity - they’re just sitting in boxes in their attics, waiting for a great-grandson to unearth them and share their story with the world.
22/06/15, Alta Loma, CA