Shadi Ghadirian

Shadi Ghadirian
Nil, Nil#1

Shadi Ghadirian is an Iranian artist who specializes in photography. Born in 1974 and raised in Tehran, Iran,“[Ghadirian’s] own childhood was deeply marked by the war” that involved her home country, Iran. The Iranian Revolution happened in 1979 when Ghadirian was just five that consisted of violent events that led to the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahvali’s monarchy and was soon replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic republic. The Iran-Iraq war that lasted from September 1980 to August 1988 ended during her mid-teenage years. Ghadirian recollects, “When I was fifteen, a very important age for a girl, we were being bombed. We were a marked generation. As soon as I understood anything, everything was the Revolution. And then there was war.“  (Ghadirian, Gupta, Tasveer Gallery)

“So when I decided to go to college I chose photography because I thought I would not have to read a lot of books. My father wondered how I would earn a living and asked me if I intended to become a portrait photographer or take wedding pictures.” – Ghadirian  (Ghadirian, Bad Jens)

As she entered college, she was among the first students to take photography classes at the newly established department of Azad University. Because she did not come from an affluent family, she had to work and study at the same time in order to pay for the tuition and the expensive equipment that the private Azad University did not fund for. She then received a BA in photography from Azad University and began her career as a professional photographer. Due to the influence of one of her professors, Bahman Jallali, she “decided to do her thesis on Qajar photography” which ultimately led to the conception of her Qajar series. (Ghadirian, Gupta, Tasveer Gallery) It was also after her graduation from the university that she had her first exhibition of her works. In 2000, she married a fellow photographer, Peyman Hooshmandzadeh. Now, she is the Photo Editor of Women In Iran Site, Manager of the first Iranian specialized photography site and she also works for Tehran’s Museum of Photography.

Shadi Ghadirian’s religious and cultural background has had a profound effect on her art.  As a Muslim woman who has lived in Iran her whole life, her perspective has been influenced by wars that not only occurred within Iran but also its neighboring countries. These political conflicts that she essentially grew up with and was continually exposed to manifests itself in her art. Her broad themes ranging from censorship, tradition versus modernity, and war told from a woman’s point of view reflect her unique perspective and it connects to women globally.


Shadi Ghadirian
Nil, Nil #12

Nil is a series of photographs that Ghadirian completed in 2008. Nil consists of seemingly normal scenes of the typical household with a war memorabilia subtlety embedded onto it.  A specific image in this series, Nil, Nil #12, is an image of a table elegantly set with white fine china and illuminated by natural lighting. In this photograph, white is a dominating color with golden brown and silver used as accents. The lighting increases the brightness in the background and reduces the brightness in the foreground creating a sense of darkness and emptiness especially since the scene lacks any silhouette of a person. The emptiness of the scene is further depicted through the alcohol flask’s domination of the smaller teapots and teacups. The flask is rugged and encased in a canvas fabric, which is typically seen as a sign of masculinity and contrasts itself with the smooth and curved shapes of the fragile fine china. The art piece gives off a feeling of coldness and isolation as the tea and the bread lack steam implying it is now cold and time has passed by since the tea was last poured into the cups. Despite the welcoming atmosphere that food is typically pictured in especially in household magazines, Nil, Nil #12 portrays the opposite as if the audience is an unwelcomed guest that is interfering with the household’s dynamic.  In context of Ghadirian’s experiences, Nil, Nil #12 is a reminder of the tendency of war to affect households internally. Things might look okay at first glance, but after a closer second look, the tears and the divisions are much more evident. In this series, Ghadirian questions the logic of war and the social turmoil and upheaval that results from it.

Shadi Ghadirian
Miss Butterfly #9

Ghadirian’s most recent series of black and white photographs, Miss Butterfly, follows through with the themes of isolation and strength that Ghadirian established in her previous artworks. In Miss Butterfly #9, a lone woman is pictured in a living room or parlor room. An enormous spider web that the woman is making catches the audiences’ eyes due to its peculiarity. It is also worth noting that in the rest of the Miss Butterfly series, the spider web is always placed on the source of the light source. Judging from the state of the room, which is spacious with wooden furniture, floor to ceiling windows, and figurines adorning the tables, the woman seems to be of an upper class household. Even though her face is unreadable because her back faces the camera, the isolation of the woman is felt through the darkness and emptiness of the room she resides in. There is no sense of warmth from a human connection in the photograph showcasing a separation between the woman and her surroundings. It is evident that she is yearning of freedom and yet she in tangled up in the web. Miss Butterfly series most closely resembles Ghadirian’s other series, Like EveryDay, which was her comment on the traditional roles women have been defined after she received household items as wedding gifts. Both of these series are a reflection on the routine lifestyle that a woman might follow as she becomes married. Also, Miss Butterfly as a whole, to me, tells a story of a yearning for freedom, as it seems that the woman is trying to reach the light but like a real life butterfly, she is caught and the spider web blocks her way. This idea seems to be a metaphor for women who strive to achieve power but are put down by society’s standards and shackled back to where they are supposed to belong. Ghadirian states of her Miss Butterfly series:

“Miss Butterfly is going to meet the sun; as she is looking for a way out and reaching for the light, she becomes caught in a spider’s web. Moved to compassion after observing Miss Butterfly’s grace and delicacy, the spider comes to an agreement with her. He tells her to bring one of the insects from the dark cellar and tie it up in the spider’s web for him. In turn, the spider will show her the way out and lead her into the light. But after hearing the insects’ stories, Miss Butterfly feels pity for them and eventually returns to the spider empty-handed, with injured wings; and she makes herself caught in the web to be the spider’s food. Impressed by her courage, the spider sets Miss Butterfly free and shows her the way out to meet the sun. Miss Butterfly calls all the other insects in the cellar to share her freedom with them, but she gets no response. She is so frustrated by their reaction that she opens wide her weary wings and flies toward the sun.”  (Ghadirian, Cloud, Fertile Crescent)

From these two images, Ghadirian has a tendency to create anomalies in her art pieces. This can be seen in her most of her series such as Like EveryDay, (Ctrl+Alt+Del), Nil, White Squar, and Miss Butterfly. The images of a series together tell a story that makes it difficult to concentrate on just one part of the series. It is important to also remember that Ghadirian is a photographer and she is deliberately composing these photographs with certain thematic elements as a means of transferring her ideas to the audience. Unlike other artists who have vastly different images in a series, Ghadirian’s photographs are fluid and appear as though as they have been pictured at the same moment and an evident connecting theme. This is also shown through the titles she gives her art, she numbers the photographs of a series instead of giving them their own unique name. She most commonly covers themes in relation to women and violence that stems from her life experiences. Ghadirian attempts to break down the stereotypes regarding women especially Iranian women and questions the state of women in Iran and also the effect of war.

Shirin Neshat
Rebellious Silence
B&W RC print & ink

In comparison with a fellow Iranian artist, Shirin Neshat, Ghadirian and Neshat both share common themes about veiling and conflicts, the only difference being how they are approached and portrayed. Shirin Neshat’s Rebellious Silence is an image of a veiled woman with the barrel of a gun pointing straight up dividing her face. Her gaze looks straight at the viewer evoking a sense of courage and confidence. However, her eyes tell a different story since it seems blank and empty. Although, a different viewpoint can be understood from reading the words scribed upon her face, if one understands Persian. The lighting in this picture affects how the character’s intentions are viewed. One cannot help but notice the dark versus light that is shown through the dark shadow cast by the weapon on this mysterious figure’s face . Rebellious Silence is much more subtle and has a stronger dark appeal than Nil. Neshat’s Rebellious Silence deconstructs the Western idea that the Islamic women are oppressed. In the character we see in this specific work, the viewer is puzzled and somewhat intimidated by the weapon she possesses and how the character, a veiled woman, has the upper hand and power in this situation.

After looking at Neshat’s work, Ghadirian’s unique artistic style is easily discerned. Neshat and Ghadirian are different in their creative expression. Ghadirian’s work is less forceful than Neshat’s piece primarily due to visual and mental stimulation from Neshat. Ghadirian tends to display a visual piece and leave it up to the reader to deduce the situation of the unknown person in a particular photograph. Despite their differences in how their work come into fruition, Ghadirian’s Nil series and Neshat’s Rebellious Silence emphasizes the close relationship that these artists have to their country. They often describe social issues ranging from stereotypes to war in a woman’s point of view in their works. Ghadirian and Neshat both understand the social structure that they are in today and through their art, they attempt to deconstruct these expectations of women in society.


Shadi Ghadirian
Nil, Nil #10




I was first introduced to Shadi Ghadirian’s art when I visited Photo Center NW’s exhibit, Social Order: Women Photographers from Iran, India, and Afghanistan. I had the opportunity to view several photographs of Ghadirian’s series Nil and Qajar. Qajar is one of her most famous works that show the traditional 19th century woman with an item from the modern times such as a vacuum or a coke can symbolizing the modernity versus tradition that Iranian women struggle with today. I was especially drawn to Ghadirian’s Nil series that portrayed the shocking but subtle effects of war.  I also found it surprising that Shadi Ghadirian is not an artist typically included in the Western canon of feminist art despite her achievements, popularity, and exhibitions all over the world.

Shadi Ghadirian
Qajar #3 

Shadi Ghadirian in Robert Adanto’s Pearls on the Ocean Floor

Ghadirian’s art made me realize the connections that are emphasized in art. It is not enough to deduce what the art is about but it is crucial to also draw conclusions from the artist’s personal history and how their own history has affected the art they produce. The intersectionality in Ghadirian’s art revealed itself from her gender, her class, her history, Iran’s history, and from the symbols in her images. Her images taught me about the social issues regarding Iranian women and their own personal struggles. Ghadirian’s reputation as one of the first Iranian woman photographers that challenged societal concepts has set her as a role model to those not only in Iran but worldwide.


Ghadirian, Shadi. “Shadi Ghadirian.” Shadi Ghadirian. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2012. <>.

Ghadirian, Shadi. “Shadi Ghadirian Interview.” Interview by Ruchira Gupta. Tasveer Gallery -. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <>.

Ghadirian, Shadi. “Bad Jens Archive – 2nd Edition: Interview with Photographer Shadafarin Ghadirian.” Interview. Bad Jens Archive – 2nd Edition: Interview with Photographer Shadafarin Ghadirian. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <>.

Ghadirian, Shadi. “| Women in Photography | Shadi Ghadirian.” Web log post. | Women in Photography | Shadi Ghadirian. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.

Cloud, Ilana. “Artists.” Artists. Institute for Woman and Art (IWA) – Rutgers University, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.

“Gladstone Gallery.” Gladstone Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.



  1. Sasha Welland

    Rieza, I thought you might be interested to know that Shadi Gadirian collaborated with Pushpamala N, whom she photographed as part of her Qajar Woman series in her studio in Tehran. You can see the images in this catalogue:

  2. Prateek

    Dear Rieza,

    Firstly, I must applaud you for your choice of your artist, both from your presentation of her in class and from some research I was able to do on her after. I believe that I found her especially engaging because of her sheer audacity that has so deeply and irreversibly changed the face of the Iranian artistic commonplace. Ghadirian’s art relates very closely to the art of my artist in focus, Brinda Miller, although she came from of a VERY different circumstantial viewpoint I believe that Miller and Ghadirian both follow in the tradition of expressing what that it means to have a dream and how that the ‘masks’ we wear (in this case veils) shadow these dreams, trap them in little cages and leave us mean hollow.

    I hope that this viewpoint was of value to you and that you will further explore it.

    Prateek Bakhtiani

  3. Mesa

    I really enjoyed reading your analysis of Ghadirian’s art. I think analyzing photographs such as Nil, Nil #12 can be very difficult. As viewers, it is easy to dismiss quiet images and miss their subtle meanings. Therefore, I liked the way you broke the image down, explaining the function of each component. The way you linked this back to the war was very insightful and showed the way in which understanding an artist’s background can shape your interpretation of the work.

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