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Secret of Words

Sadegh Tirafkan

In collaboration with Massoud Nader

November 2006

Sadegh Tirafkan is a persevering artist who navigates through time and culture in search of his place and identity as an Iranian man in the contemporary world. The medium of photography has become his main platform to construct powerful visual plays, using a combination of elements that he seasons sufficiently with symbolism.


The significance of symbolism throughout Tirafkan’s body of work comes from his Persian root in which direct dialogue is rarely used, but frequently replaced by symbolic languages. How do you inform a culture that has three thousand years of history, rich in tradition and essentially a homogenous and male dominated society? Tirafkan expresses his concerns through images of numerous self-portraits and portraits of friends. He once said, "I began photography by recording what surrounded me. Now I take what is around me in the studio and make it into what I see through the prism of my life and culture." Tirafkan poses himself and others in the studio time after time to explore the meaning of being a contemporary Iranian. Blending tradition, history and memory, he recreates visually compelling scenes that build visceral connection to his ancient country. And this is where the strength and beauty of Tirafkan's work lie.


In reinventing and revisiting Iranian tradition he is also criticizing and challenging his ancestors' long-standing authority. In spite the highly eloquent appearances; I see two hidden trends in his work, which the artist has perhaps introduced even without realizing it: a theatrical staging of all the historic drama of his country, all the painful events of which he experienced intensely, and a discreet journey towards a spirituality which emanates from his whole vision. Here, Tirafkan surreptitiously rejoins the mystical quest which remains, whether we like it or not, the key-stone of any metaphysical edifice of the Iranian world. Born in Iran in 1965, Tirafkan trained as a photographer at the University of Fine Arts in Tehran. Since the late 1990s he has participated in numerous solo exhibitions and group shows, in Tehran, Paris and New York.


Tirafkan’s work offers an eloquent meditation on modern Iranian man’s relationship to his past and on his search for a meaningful identity in the present. Identity, history and memory have been central concerns in the work of non-western artists since the era of colonialism. Tirafkan, frequently using himself as a model, revisits and reinvents these themes in his series of enigmatic yet visually compelling photographs. He uses words and symbols to communicate with the audience.

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