Despite the strong connection between the metropolitan crowd and the design of Iran’s urban space (harking back to the Safavid period)
and the correlation between the mob and its representation in the arts, visual culture, and propaganda (going as far back as the early
1950s, during the time of Fadaiyan-i Islam's propaganda publications), historians of modern Iran have not paid ample
attention to how the crowd has been choreographed, organized, imaged, and imagined. Is the crowd to be feared, contained, and
surveilled, or celebrated as a heroic entity capable of enacting visionary change? And what are its distinguishing features? Is the
crowd a faceless mass or an amalgamation of individuals with particular aspirations and identities? What are the conditions for
the shifting configurations of the crowd from an antagonistic entity to a holistic social body? With the exception of a few studies, there is little exploration of how such choreographed crowds have served ideology. There is, however, a vast body of literature on the subject in Western contexts. From Plato, who introduced the concept of demos or the irrational crowd, to Gustav Le Bon's La psychologie
des foules (1895), to Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's theorization (2000) of the multitude as a counter-imperial force disrupting state borders and agendas; to W.J.T. Mitchell's recent analysis of collective disobedience in the Occupy Movement ( Critical Inquiry , 2012), scholars in the West have historicized and theorized the notion of the crowd. Following the theoretical framework put forward by these major Western figures, this panel aims to foreground the importance of the crowd (in its real and representational modes) in
Iran’s modern history. Through a combined analysis—which integrates urban form, social discourse, art, and media representations— this panel examines the dynamic relationships between changes in Iran’s unique mythologies of the crowd and its various transformations in architectural space and visual culture. The art/architectural historians and artist/activists contributing to this panel will cover a variety of topics, such as: how the design and architectural characteristics of main urban entities have choreographed the revolutionary and pro-regime demonstrations and how these are in tension with the regime’s propaganda machine; the student uprisings of 1997 and the 2009 Green Revolution; and the architectural spaces and novel spatial connections that are made possible by digital media (for example, in photographic collages that recall traditions of Islamic mirror-work or carpet weaving).
Sadegh Tirafkan (1965-2013) is one of Iran’s most revered photographic artists whose work explores issues of contemporary Iranian national identity in tension with ancient Persian traditions. Early in Tirafkan’s career, he used international strategies of ‘performative’ photography to explore the lingering personal and cultural traumas of the Iran-Iraq war. Subsequently, his work continued to focus on issues of masculinity, heroic sacrifice, and mourning in works that depicted Ashura ceremonies in Tehran. Recurring motifs of blood, martyrdom, and violence have been points of critical and aesthetic inquiry over the course of his career. Since 2003, Tirafkan developed a method using digital photography that allowed him to layer imagery into collages that reference traditional Persian art forms, such as miniature painting (from the Shahnameh legends), the low-relief sculptures of ancient sites (Persepolis), as well as textiles and carpets. A significant transformation of Tirafkan’s photo-collages is evident starting in 2008, when one witnesses a shift from works presenting individual identities and self-portraits to those depicting large crowds of Iranian people. These crowd images would eventually comprise two major bodies of work: the Multitude series and the Human Tapestry series, which are the primary focus of this paper. These works were created at a historical moment of great political aspiration and unrest, and coincide with the Green Movement demonstrations and subsequent state violence. Yet at precisely this time, Tirafkan evacuates all references to blood and violence from his artwork. The vision Tirafkan presents involves a dual focus on individuals and on the robust, dynamic communities that sustain and integrate them. The faces of Iran’s young generation, as well as women, girls, and boys are configured into colourful textile-inspired geometries enabled by the digital photographic collage method. These are holistic visions of Iranian crowds united by “common threads” and “woven together” into alternative statements, which seem to counter the radical upheavals occurring within the Iranian society and politics of that pivotal historic moment. To explore the theoretical potential of Tirafkan’s artwork, I will refer to (among other paradigms) theories of “the multitude” as a force that counters state ideologies proposed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000), as well as to W.J.T. Mitchell’s identification and deconstruction of the stereotypical notions of the militant Islamic crowd so often presented by Western news media, outlined in his essay “Clonophobia” (2008, The Ethics and Politics of the Image).