On two modes of witnessing: Azadeh Akhlaghi and Gauri Gill

Sarover Zaidi in Chapati Mystery:

They ask me to tell them what Shahid means—

Listen: It means “The Beloved” in Persian, “Witness” in Arabic

—Agha Shahid Ali, In Arabic, 2003

ShariatiAli Shariati, the Iranian revolutionary and socialist, died mysteriously in 1977. Shariati, also a sociologist, wrote Jihad and Shahadat, a rendering of the historico-mythical battle of Karbala, retelling it as the first red revolution. Composed as a testimonial to the dead, Shariati portrayed the female protagonist Zainab as the last witness to this bloody battle of loss, death and mourning. Unfortunately, at the peak of Cold War politics, prior to Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran (1979), Shariati had been found dead under mysterious circumstances (1977). Shariati’s own death went without witnesses or testimonials, or the image and space of mourning it demanded. Forty years later, Azadeh Akhlaghi, a photographer, provides a testimonial to Shariati’s death, in her experimental series ‘By an Eyewitness’.

Akhlaghi works with 17 renditions of witnessing deaths and events that had slid under the archives or had not been allowed to have one. She provides in the hyper-image-fetishizing code of contemporary photography, an original injunction. Akhlaghi’s exhibit works with actors and staged sets to produce events that had missed photographic documentation and presence in the archive of a nation-state. Using newspaper reports, records and interviews, she, bit by bit, pieces together scenes of assassinations, accidents, political deaths and funerals. She seamlessly, brilliantly, and self-consciously provides the role of the fabricator in photography, but one that hinges on photography’s original injunction, that of providing evidence, by staging 17 unaccounted for deaths in Iranian history.

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