by James Estrin, Lens, NYTimes
Kiana Hayeri grew up in Tehran, where the country’s morality police restricted her public behavior. She left in 2005 when she was 17 and moved to Toronto, where she studied photography at Ryerson University.
“Everything that is banned by the government is being practiced, but behind closed doors,” said Ms. Hayeri, 24. “I think that my generation is exposed to the West through satellite and Internet so much that they don’t let the restrictions stop them.”
The young women she has photographed come from mostly middle- and upper-middle class religious families, though many of them are not religious themselves. Some of their parents were either relatively lenient or they found a way to dress conservatively when they left home but changed their clothing afterward.
Ms. Hayeri does not claim that her project represents the entirety of Iran. But she said there are many young people in the big cities who yearn for a less constricting public life.
“It’s a whole world that many Americans are unaware of,” she said. “Nowadays, with all this talk about war, sanctions and nuclear weapons, people tend to forget about ordinary people, the actual people who live in Iran, and they only look at the government.”
The religious restrictions on public behavior that were codified into Iranian law after the 1980 revolution are enforced by the morality police. When her subjects were stopped for a rolled-up sleeve or a scarf not covering their hair, they would fix the problem — at least for as long as the officer was in sight.
Ms. Hayeri herself was stopped and detained last year for wearing thick, black leggings that the morality police found provocative. A family member had to bring her appropriate clothing, and since her close relatives had all left Iran, it took a while to iron out.
Her project’s title, “Your Veil Is A Battleground,” refers not just to the hijab covering — or not covering — their heads in public, but also to the hidden nature of their private lives. It goes beyond the restrictions placed on women in public or their private rebellion. Ms. Hayeri also explores how the women choose to present themselves in public.
In diptych portraits, Ms. Hayeri photographed her subjects with and without clothes or makeup. She said their choice of material for the hijab and their makeup allows them to have some control over how they present their public persona.
“They use color and fashion to make them stand out from the crowd,” she said. “When they put on the hijab and makeup, they are more powerful.”
The issues are complex. Women are restricted in public, sometimes for wearing too much makeup. But makeup, in a sense, is a veil too, covering a woman’s real appearance.
“Persian culture is all about the image you present of yourself,” she said. “Even if you’re going out for grocery shopping, you put on makeup. So taking that off of your face takes a lot of courage.”
Though she is now a Canadian citizen, Ms. Hayeri said she was raised “in the same world” as her subjects. She said that there are many more younger, liberal, urban Iranians who would like to integrate their public and private lives.
“This is the generation that is trying to push the boundaries in every sense.”