To some extent this explains Tirafakan’s spontaneous approach to his projects. He constantly works on simultaneous projects and never begins them as a work in isolation with determined start and end date.
While in Iran, he becomes more interested in Pre-Islamic and Islamic cultures, including art, philosophy and literature, giving rise to his series of Choghazanbil (an ancient ziggurat in southwest Iran 1995-1998) and Ashura (the mourning ceremony of martyrdom of the third Shiite Imam Hussein (1989-2004) and Persepolis 2 series in 2002 in which he introduced other people from different historical settings into the frame.
Beginning to shoot with a Hasselblad camera, which captures incredibly rich and detailed images, Tirafkan switched to a portable digital format in 2002. That’s why the Ashura series, consists of snapshots which are sometimes the final work of art and at other times, they serve as a preparatory image that the artist then manipulates on a computer. Within the theme of Ashura, Tirafkan has many subcategories, including fashion, generation and gender. The fashion component resulted in the Men in Black series. The first part of Ashura was exhibited at Tehran Museum of Contemporary Arts in 2001. A part of Men in Black first appeared in a book published in 2005, and later exhibited at Waterhouse & Dodd Fine Art in 2008. Altogether according to his own estimate only five percent of the series has been seen by the public, something he hopes to change by publishing a book of all the images in the future.
In addition to Iranian history and self-identity, masculinity and manhood has been a major subject matter of Tirafkan’s works, dealt with first in Iranian Men (2000) which was later published in Belgium in 2006. A self-portrait photo triptych resembling a sequential comic strip, masking his identity under a red lo-ng, a traditional Iranian sash (originally made of gold and silk threads) used in sporting combats that is known as the warrior wearing symbol of masculinity and according to Tirafkan “of humanity of real man not just in Iran, but in universal society today. In fact, the subject of masculinity is continued in my current series The Loss of Identity.”
No wonder that his other simultaneous project, Sacrifice (2003) video is set in a zoorkhaneh, where the red lo-ng wearing wrestlers tumble about center stage.
From another perspective, this series can be viewed as the artist’s lamentation for former glories of Iranian culture now being replaced by contemporary Iranian youth with “the present commercial pervasive satellite broadcasts and the Internet.” As Tirafkan so aptly states, “The first thing war kills is culture. Governments cut budgets for culture but have the means for the satellites that beam garbage directly into peoples’ homes.” The role of cultural heritage in contemporary life is another ongoing subject, Tirafkan deal with in Multitude and Devotion exhibited at Assar Gallery in Tehran in 2008. Both series deal with the leitmotifs of identity and culture.
As his body of work elucidates, Tirafkan is very proud of his identity as an Iranian man. He conveys this pride through meticulous art in which every detail is weighed and measured in order to create work that is to the best of his ability. He sees this as the ultimate Iranian cultural trait. “Iranian art reflects a heightened sense of perfectionism. Look at Persepolis, Iranian miniatures and Safavid art!”
My goal is to demonstrate that all people regardless of gender, culture and religion are indeed looking for inner peace and sanctity.