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Seeking Iranian national identity: An examination of the photography exhibition, Looking at Persepolis: the Camera in Iran, 1850-1930

Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
This thesis investigates Looking at Persepolis displayed at The Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver. This study examines how the exhibition reproduces an Orientalist lens and their stereotypical representations of Iran by showcasing selected photographs. Additionally, it considers their meaning in the contemporary context of Vancouver's Iranian diaspora. Based on the three levels of Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1995), this thesis examines the exhibition at a macro, meso and micro level. The macro-level examines the discourse of Iranian national identity in relation to the socio-cultural practices that facilitated the nation-building project of Naser al-Din Shah (1848-1896). As the thesis argues, Persepolis signified "Persian-ness" (Dabashi, 2007) in the construction of the nation's "collective imagination" (Anderson, 1983). Subsequently, the thesis examines the discursive practices of early photography in Iran, particularly European photography, in the context of colonialism and the Shah's photography institutions at a meso-level. It explores the institutional and political practices that influenced the production and consumption of photographs of the four European photographers highlighted in the exhibition. The micro-level examines The Polygon's use of these photographs to signify Persian-ness. I argue that the exhibition presents an ideal ancient civilization that encompasses a "nostalgic culture" of Iranian nationalists, especially in the diasporic community (Naficy, 2001). By juxtaposing the portrait of the Naser al-Din Shah with the photographs of Persepolis, the exhibition becomes infused with a form of Iranian nationalism that is problematically tied to longing for Iran's monarchial system. I conclude while there was an attempt to distance the image of the Iranian diasporic community from negative Western media images of the Middle East by showing photographs of the ancient site of Persepolis, the use of European photographs in the exhibition facilitates the reproduction of the same power relations between the Orient and the Occident that this thesis critically examines.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: McAllister, Kirsten
Member of collection
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