THE MAN WITH 1000 FACES- PART 2
17 Apr - 4 May 2019
Opening Night | Thursday 18 Apr, 6pm–8pm
The Man with 1000 Faces is a deeply personal reframing of the 1979 Iranian Revolution through intimate family photographs and home videos. It’s an excavation of silenced history and the reclaiming of a personal past obscured by political context. An ongoing story told in many parts, Katayoun Javan bravely delves into her family archive to uncover the memory of a man she never met, a man whose memorialisation was censored, a man who wore many hats and had many faces, a political man, a congenial man, a divisive man, a family man, a forgotten and never forgotten man, a loved man – the artist’s father.
Protests which grew to revolution in 1979 saw millions of Iranians take to the streets against the ruling Shah and his regime. Although relatively prosperous as a country, rising poverty in lower classes, dissatisfaction with the ruling autocracy and fears of western interference lead to the rise of a popular movement, which overthrew the monarchy and replaced it with a theocratic government. Often when reflecting on historic events as hard as we try to unpack them, it is easy to become one dimensional, to ignore the fluidity of truth and overlook divergent nuances for the purpose of reconciling narratives that we can make sense of. But how can we ever make sense of the death of a loved one?
Through this series of work, Javan reminds us that history is malleable, memory unreliable, personal accounts interpretable, images simultaneously acquiescent and resistant, and that storytelling is as complex as the people depicted by it. The series title – The Man with 1000 Faces – is taken from a propagandist phrase used by the Iranian media at the time to vilify several people related to the Shah’s regime, including the artist’s father. One of many causalities of the Iranian revolution, Javan’s father was executed in 1979.
The Man with 1000 Faces- Part 1 was shown at Seventh Gallery in August 2018. A wall of hundreds of family photographs captures a stylish man and woman, the artist’s mother and father, pictured sometimes formally at work events, sometimes jovially posing with friends at parties, or casually as tourists on holiday, arms thrown affectionately around their family and children. A vernacular of images found in any family album, but installed as a looming grid en masse they become an avalanche of investigation. Scenes are repeated, changing slightly frame by frame, as though Javan is a private eye conducting surveillance on her father across time, observing all she can, connecting the dots. Recognisable media images depicting the 1979 revolution are manipulated and juxtaposed with family photographs. Ruhollah Khomeini’s portrait is erased to black on boards held by Iranian protesters, while a family portrait nearby gently fades into the white of the page.
Expanding on Part 1, The Man with 1000 Faces- Part 2 further considers both the sinister machinations of political propaganda and underlines the artist’s own attempts to understand her father and his absence. Reproductions of a news article where the condemning phrase is specifically attributed to her father appears incongruently amongst video footage of her father warmly laughing and smiling. Snippets of amateur home video show blurring scenes of a son challenging his father to a race, a young family singing happy birthday or swimming at the beach. These clips are jarringly interrupted by political images of the revolution disseminated by the media at the time, as well as the manipulated sound from famous Iranian revolution songs. Like fugitive pieces each image, film and sound clip hints at and avoids meaning – fragmented accomplices to the interminable nature of the whole resisting narrative reconciliation.
It’s an impossible task to ever truly understand another human being, even our closest family. To entirely know their inner thoughts and motivations, even when we inherit characteristics of them, is unattainable, and more so in the wake of their absence. Nevertheless, the act of trying to know and understand one another is one of the most important. In understanding the 1979 revolution too, we need to understand more than the images that have defined it for us. Javan movingly offers us her personal archives and images, perhaps as an antidote. She confronts challenging and uncomfortable memories to share the revolution’s impact on her family and her never-ending attempt to remember her father in the context of past and present-day politics, nationhood and diaspora. She constructs an intimate installation of works that offer us something deeply individual in the face of political attrition.
- Michelle Mountain
Katayoun Javan is an Iranian photographic artist based in Melbourne. She studied photography at Tehran Azad University and completed a MFA at Deakin University in 2013. Through documentary photography, portraiture and use of found photos she draws on personal stories to explore notions of memory, home and displacement. She was the recipient of a Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria in 2016 and the result of her research, a series of photographic portraits of Iranian immigrants in Melbourne, was exhibited and purchased by the State Library in 2017.
IMAGE | Katayoun Javan, Still Image from The Man with 1000 Faces-Part 2, 2019 | Found photo of the Iranian Revolution 1979 | Courtesy the artist.