Bright lights and a bidet chandelier: Iran gets a blast of shocking colour

  • 2017-02-15
  • The Guardian

In the early 1990s, visitors to Iran would have been struck by the country’s lack of vibrant colour. Eight years of war, on top of a revolutionary ideology that regarded individual expression as frivolous, had obliterated it from the streets. The palette of the public space was dominated by dark shades of brown, grey and navy blue, interspersed with the prominent black chadors of the women.

In most religions, white is the colour of purity, cleanliness and virtue. But in Iran, it was black that symbolised righteousness. This was especially ironic given that, before the revolution, devout Iranian women would wear light, flowery chadors to step out of their homes. Where did the colour go in Iran? And where did black come from?

These questions motivated my own staged photographs of unusually colourful chadors in 2005, as I sought to investigate the demise of the flowery ones worn by my aunt and grandmother as I was growing up in pre-revolution Iran.

I found some answers in David Batchelor’s book Chromophobia, in which the British artist traces the trajectory of highbrow hostility to colour in western thought. Colour, he writes, is regarded either as the “property of some foreign body, usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological … or relegated to the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic”.