On display now at The Image Centre, Bahar Kamali’s Banovan is a visually striking exhibit exploring the lives of women in Iran and reflecting on how personal and societal memories can collide.

Kamali is a graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Photography Studies program, and began working on Banovan during their last semester of studies. “It began with a series of questions around photography’s relationship to memory, the family snapshot, and the photo album. I was wondering if I could construct a family album for myself. And if I did, what photos should go in it and what kind of memories would they generate.”

The result was Banovan, a project combining family snapshots with images from Ettela’at Banovan (Ladies’ Information), a popular Iranian women’s magazine published in the 1950s.

“A very close friend of mine first introduced me to the Banovan magazine,” said Kamali. “Her grandmother used to collect the magazines in the 1950s. She had gathered and bound the issues of Banovan into two thick bundles. I was fascinated by them as these old, weathered, fragile objects, but also by the content of the magazines.”

Bahar Kamali, To the Summer House, 2020, inkjet print. Courtesy of the artist

The Banovan magazine published a variety of stories with a strong focus on fashion and beauty, and aimed to educate women to be modern, progressive, and fashionable. Kamali was particularly drawn to the articles about social issues still affecting Iranian women today, such as what is considered appropriate attire for young adult women.  “It was interesting for me to read these articles knowing how these topics, some of them discussing the most basic human freedoms, are still subject of debate, to say the least, today.”

Kamali’s project also speaks to some of the cultural and historical contexts that continue to influence women’s lives in Iran. “Despite the fact that the work is about Iranian women, it only speaks to a fracture of issues they have been facing in recent history,” they said. Kamali began working on the project in 2020, two years before the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran gained global attention. Footage of massive protests in Iran went viral, with women and girls removing their head coverings and chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom” to protest the killing of Mahsa Amini and the government’s ongoing oppression of women. 

There is so much for viewers to analyze and reflect on in this project. Banovan displays both the glamourized ideals presented in the magazine and the intimate fragments of a real family’s history. Kamali used a variety of techniques, including layering, juxtaposing and collaging, to incorporate both the family photos and snippets from the magazine. “The act of layering and juxtaposition further interrupts the relationships both within and between the original images, which in turn makes them more visually engaging,” they said.  

This bold contrast is instantly intriguing and is just one of many fascinating details waiting for you to discover in this project. 

Bahar Kamali’s Banovan is one of four new photo-based exhibits launching at The Image Centre this fall, along with Stories from the Picture Press, Louie Palu: Cage Call, and Su Rynard: As Soon As Weather Will Permit. See these captivating exhibits on display now.