Shadi Ghadirian

Female stereotypes in conservative Iran are a recurring theme in the works of Shadi Ghadirian (Iran). She was inspired to make Qajar after finding the surprisingly liberal photo archives of a nineteenth-century Persian king. We see women portrayed in a traditional setting, holding modern icons like a boombox and vacuum cleaner.


Shadi Ghadirian (Iran, 1974) was inspired to make Qajar (1998) after discovering the photo collection of king Nasser al-Din Shah of the Qajar dynasty that ruled Persia between 1794 and 1925. The king brought back a lot of pictures from his travels through Europe. He photographed his wives in French tutus or without clothes. Surprisingly liberal, she thought.

Ghadirian portrayed friends and family members in traditional clothing holding modern icons like a boombox, a can of coke, or a vacuum cleaner. ‘My pictures became a mirror reflecting how I felt: we are stuck between tradition and modernity’, she said about her series. The photo in which two veiled ladies hold a mirror reflecting a bookcase won a prize, which was retracted by Iran’s Ministry of Culture which deemed the photo controversial.

She studied at the Azad University in Tehran and was confronted with the strict expectations placed on women by conservative Iranian society early on. It became a recurring theme in her work, making fun of female stereotypes and gender relations.