Born in 1983, Babak Kazemi is a self-taught photographer living and working in Tehran. He was born and grew up in the city of Ahvaz, which is a reoccurring subject in, or backdrop for, his work. Ahvaz is just few kilometers away from the first-discovered oil well in the Middle East and was one of the cities that was greatly affected during the eight-year Iran/Iraq war, which Kazemi witnessed during his early childhood. He uses oil both as a concept and as well an addition to his artistic process, frequently soaking his photographic prints in oil. He believes many of social and political problems in Iran stem from oil and its production.
Excerpt from Different Sames: New Perspectives in Contemporary Iranian Art 2009
Born in Ahvas, Iran, in 1983, Babak Kazemi is both a photographer and a graphic designer. He has won various design awards Iran, and has been showing his work in solo and group exhibitions since 1996. His subjects tend to have some sort of message or inherent symbolism: recent works have played with the layering and repeating of images, creating curious juxtapositions as images appear on bags or on the flanks of cattle. Other photographs – which are typically black and white or sepia-toned – have examined dead fish or butterflies.
Excerpt from Tehran: A Popular Revolution 2012
In order to correctly see Babak Kazemi’s photographs, the viewer should be directed to read the descriptions below them. This reading will surely challenge inflexible and one-sided interpretations.
In his latest series, Kazemi has re-photographed pictures from his family album and placed Mickey Mouse and Goofy stickers on top of the faces. Apart from typical symbolic and political readings of American animations that are the norm in a country like Iran, these works provide the opportunity for an independent, Iranian interpretation of symbols from the American animation industry, relating to the final years of th 20th century in Iran. Kazemi’s generation grew up watching cartoons that instead of inspiring joy and creativity carried an air of hopelessness and despair. Most of the cartoons aired by the National Iranian Television in the years after the revolution, were either about orphans or a child searching for its mother; it made no difference whether the young cartoon character was a squirrel, a bee, or a young girl.
On the other hand, Walt Disney cartoons that were occasionally played on TV did not lead to desperation and anguish, but instead were joyful, active shows without dialog. They took the mind of the Iranian child away from the anxious, worried world or the usual cartoons played on National Iranian Television, and lead it to a world of childhood playfulness and innocence. If one looks at the stickers on Kazemi’s photographs with this in mind, like a time machine, the photographs take us back to the collective memories of our past. Kazemi uses these animations characters on his family photographs as symbols of the shared memories of a particular generation. The photos may be unfamiliar to the viewer, but their color and texture is reminiscent of past decades.
Looking at these photographs, the viewer realizes that the stickers add meaning to the family photos; meanings such as service, lost innocence, stupidity, coquettishness, seductions, friendships, rivalries and anticipation. The artist’s cleverness is particularly exhibited where he shows the history of a country through symbols that have come out of that same history, a depiction of a not too distant turbulent and political past where the generation now on the scene was growing up, a generation that still seeks its identity in the past.
The story of Shirin and Farhad involves a tragic love triangle. Farhad (a stone mason) and King Khosrow are both in love with the beautiful Shirin. Shirin knows of Farhad’s love and uses the fact to make the King jealous. As a result, the King tries to get rid of Farhad by assigning him an impossible task: to win Shirin’s hand, he must remove a mountain. However, Farhad’s love is stronger than either Shirin or the King had imagined, and he takes on the task with zeal. Amazed at the reports of Farhad’s progress, Shirin travels to the mountain to see it for herself. After the long journey, though, she faints with fatigue, and Farhad puts both Shirin and her horse on his shoulders and carries them back to the palace. It is this scene that traditional Shirin and Farhad miniature paintings focus on.
Babak Kazemi revisits this 16th-century tragedy in order to comment on the contemporary struggle of lovers who must leave their homelands to find the freedom to love. For him, the story reveals the historical roots of what we know today as forced migration and immigration. The figure of King Khosrow also provides him with a potent symbol for the kind of emotional control and suppression that men and women still endure today. Ultimately, however, Kazemi’s message is that love can overcome even the most difficult situations.
Tehran-based Art Critic Shahrouz Nazari