Interview: The Echo of Your Departure – Azadeh Fatehrad

Dr. Azadeh Fatehrad is an artist and curator based in London, working in the context of historical representation. Fatehrad’s research, artistic and curatorial practice are intertwined around a process of gathering information and generating new imagery in response to archival material she discovers. Her practice ranges from still and moving images to fictional stories, short films and artist books which have been exhibited internationally at the Royal Academy of Art (London), Somerset House (London), Weltkulturen Museum (Frankfurt am Main), Index: The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation (Stockholm), Lychee One Gallery (London) and The Barn Gallery (Oxford), among others. Fatehrad has received her practice-based PhD from the Royal College of Art (2016) and has conducted diverse projects across Europe and the Middle East, including at the Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main, the International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam, AFDI Archiv für Forschung und Dokumentation Iran Berlin eV,Berlin, and the Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies (IICHS), Tehran. Underpinning Fatehrad’s research is a cross-cultural approach that looks at the artistic, social, aesthetic and political implications of ‘existing images’, and their relation to life today. Fatehrad has curated diverse public programmes such as ‘Sohrab Shahid-Saless: Exiles’ at the Close-Up Film Centre, Goethe-Institut and Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London (2017-18); ‘The Feminist Historiography’ at IASPIS, Stockholm (2016); and ‘Witness 1979’ at the Showroom, London (2015). Her projects have been positively covered by the likes of the New York Times and Financial Times, CNN, Euronews, the Guardian, and the British Journal of Photography, among others. Fatehrad is co-founder of ‘Herstoriographies: The Feminist Media Archive Research Network’ in London and she is on the editorial board of the peer-reviewed Journal for Artistic Research (JAR). Fatehrad is also the recipient of St. John’s College Artist in Residence 2018 at the University of Oxford.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

The early experiences with photography were the one in my childhood playing with Polaroid cameras. It was fascinating for me to witness the appearance of the image on paper very fast after taking the photos. I enjoyed the experiment.

How does your work as a curator affect your work as an artist? Do you often find inspiration in the work you curate?

I think they are both interconnected and they feed one another very well. In curating for instance, I usually treat gallery space as a ‘canvas’- juxtaposing selection of works that reflect a form of dialogue or constellation of my ideas.

How much of your education has prepared you for what you’re currently doing? Has it helped cultivate your artistry and allowed you to pursue endeavors unavailable to those without a PhD?

Surely it has been a great help in shaping my work today. I am a huge fan of research and that helped me a lot as I wanted to know in depth of my topic. Research provided the university affiliation and essential institutional support while I was focusing on specific project that I was individually keen to explore. However that might be different for different people and that phd might not be needed in some cases for perusing their project. I think, two elements affected my progress positively and those were education and the community of colleagues/friends around me.

Tell me a bit about The Echo of Your Departures and why you chose to explore the history of feminist in Iran?

The Echo of Departures is based on personal story of diaspora. I left Iran about ten years ago to study my MA in the UK. It almost started immediately that the life of diaspora became a search of myself, a woman from Iran in a new adapted home of UK. I was curious to know why my view points are influenced by traditions and social values even though I was far away from Iran. The distance surely helped me gain new perspective, to be able to evaluate and to be able to find a new being that could be more independent from traditional thoughts. There wasn’t really any other way to find out about women of my country, in particular myself, without searching feminist history of Iran. That helped to contextualize my work and my thoughts in a more articulate manner.  

What have you learned from pursuing this project? Has any knowledge acquired made you adjust how you approach it?

Certainly, I learn new skills on auto-ethnography as a new section of my productions. Additionally, there were a few additional dimensions that had to be added to my production line through making this project. For instance, my works are usually multi-disciplinary but for this project specifically I had to learn about choir, sound and scoring for a bit. On the other hand, I mainly work collaboratively with one or two other colleagues but for this project I had to scale up to a larger team of 12 collaborators, comprising of different groups and specialized colleagues who could assist me in realizing my ideas. I am pleased with the result, and I learned a lot.

As an artist and historian, how do you balance facts and creative interpretations within your photographs?

They usually co-exists, one addresses the context and the other allows imagination to move beyond the printed photo/ projected video. I learned that it is good to not trust history and redefine history your own way. By doing research, by finding the facts and creating new constellations, these things may allow other view points to emerge. I am very interested when we start to look non-binary and avoid dichotomies- bad/ good, past /present. I think they all co-exist simultaneously and could be redefined.

When starting a multi-media installation, how do you decide which mediums would best complement the message being conveyed?

Most of the time that decision has been made when I am sketching an idea at the start of each project. I was fascinated with women’s voice, it is so powerful I thought. Hence the echo of your departure became a focus on voice and multi-layered echoes of diasporic life for me today.

What is your process like when you take photographs? How much research takes place before you reach for your camera?

There are different ways that I make photographic work. Some staged in studio which requires a lot of preparation usually, and some are made in a sort of flaneur style or random encounters which needs less of preparation. My camera is always with me.

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore?

Sure, there is a list of a few projects in my pipe line which are progressing through funding applications at the moment, once the funding comes through I could make those happen. There is also two video currently in the editing stage which will be exhibited in September in Berlin.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

Trust your intuition, Keep making and continue producing your work.

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