Old family photos are ghosts of some kind, they remind one of a time that has passed and can never be experienced again. These memories can be harsh or sweet, but no one can argue that either way they conjure a severe case of nostalgia. Although people often associate nostalgia with happy memories, the original Greek word algos is roughly translated to pain. These photos also have enough power within them to transform the viewer back into a child to experience all the mischief and longings of an age of innocence. That is why Iranian artist Setareh Shahbazi used her old family photos as the main medium for her Spectral Days collection shown at Gypsum Gallery in Zamalek.
Shahbazi was born in Tehran in 1978, but eight years later, she moved to Germany with her family. In 2009, she returned back to her family home in Tehran, where she found thousands of family photos, inspiring her to use them in her art.
According to the gallery’s Facebook page, “Spectral Days is a deeply personal project that delves into a loaded family history. It conjures up memories of Shahbazi and her family’s exile from Iran following the revolution and of her eventual return back to the land she was once forced to leave. A long process of scanning, cropping, layering and manipulating ensued. The outcome is Spectral Days, a series of more than forty haunting images in various sizes that form a stylistic departure from her signature comic strip visual aesthetic – a collection of photomontages that resides in the hazy transition between the past and its remembrance.”
The photos are highly altered to reveal the emotions they invoke within the viewer rather than the figures within them. Family members turn into phosphoric ghosts and beloved pets are smeared with paint. The photos are no longer the focus of the situation, but the process of transformation which they have undergone. “Shahbazi plays with the conventions of linear narration by transforming analogue physical objects into transient digital spaces, and back. The photographs become fluid animated spaces, re-imagined each time you look at them, rousing a train of memories in which the logic of reality does not exist.”
Spectral Days is also the inaugural exhibition for Gypsum Gallery which has just opened its doors to the public in a quaint building in Zamalek. The exhibition will run until 29 November, available to the public from 12pm till 8pm daily.