A photographic project by Kiana Hayeri, a Newsweek writer and Iranian born citizen, has detailed the norms of flirting in Iran, a move beyond the pale for Iranian culture and one that puts us, the viewer, beyond the veil.
The country of Iran boasts an enormous youth population, a 75% majority being under he age of thirty-five. This large class of college age students is comprised of a dominantly western-seeking rebellious faction, one which by all Iranian standards, is amoral and illegal.
The strive for freedom and liberation is often underpinned by sexual liberation and self-determination, a tool utilized by the hippie movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. While the rambunctious free love movement took on “The Man” and ideas of conventional family bearing, their actions resulted in little more than a lecture from a disapproving grandparent of authority figure. In Iran though, such acts of flirtatious hand holding and sex outside of marriage could result in punishments ranging from public lashings to death, making the youth’s struggle to break out of Islam’s strict and oppressive hold on the country one which is a matter of life and death.
Despite such huge consequences, behind closed doors Iran’s youth maintain a lifestyle forbidden by their government. Gambling, drinking, premarital sex, all things which if caught could land a hefty punishment, are documented in Kiana Hayeri’s photo journal of the times and social gatherings of Iran’s youth.
Some of her photos include images of women smoking hookah in cafes, a practice outlawed by many public establishments. Women without veils sit in restaurants, resting the face concealing fabric around their necks. Others show teenagers smoking cigarettes and holding hands. Even such actions one would think to be of no consequence, such as swimming in public, are banned under Islamic law dictated by the Iranian government, yet are documented in Kiana Hayeri’s groundbreaking photographic project on Iran’s youth.
Another western influence banned in Iran is ballet- the seemingly innocuous display of grace and dance is just another item added to the list of things one can’t do in Iran. Photos from Kiana Hayeri’s photo project show Parmida, an underground ballerina, preparing for her practice in her studio hidden in a basement.
Kiana Hayeri’s photo project brings us into a world that most of Iran’s youth are forced to deal with on a daily basis in silence. With nowhere to turn and no institution to petition, Iran’s youth are forced to suppress their inner desires and deny themselves the life of the average young person.
Kiana Hayeri’s emigration to Canada as a teen gave her perspective she says, as an Iranian insider and an immigrant with experiences of life outside the Islamic Republic. Hayeri’s mission to put on display the tumult of Iran’s youth in the face of cultural and social restrictions is an ongoing project to help people understand that Iran’s youth yearn for the same thing all of man has fought centuries for- liberty to be who they want to be, without having a “morality police” dictate their social conditions. And while Iran’s youth moves beyond the pale and beyond the veil, their struggle to legitimize their course of action is one which remains to be unsuccessful.
by John Amaruso