‘Burnt Generation’ turns lens on Iran’s troubled past

The generation of Iranian youth that lived through the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s are known as the Burnt Generation.

On Feb. 5, the Burnt Generation exhibition, displayed at the University of Calgary’s Art Founders’ Gallery at the Military Museums, was featured as part of the opening ceremony of the Exposure Photography Festival.

The exhibit featured photographs captured by eight Iranian photographers who grew up in Iran during the period of the revolution and the war.

Fariba Farshad, director of Candlestar, a culture consulting firm in the U.K., and curator of the exhibition, said the Burnt Generation show represents that time in Iranian history, in an attempt to address societal stereotypes existing in Iran today.

“The selection was to look at deep social effects and a long war with Iraq, as well as the sense of isolation and desolation felt by many young people in post-revolution Iran,” said Farshad.

“It reflects the contradictions of society that there are deep tensions between traditional and contemporary culture, between urban and rural traditions,” she said.

“And between the older generation and young middle class who are increasingly expressing themselves through art and photography.”

The photographers captured contemporary images that challenge Westerners’ views on Iran’s domestic, social and military life as a result of many years of political and social unrest.

The Founders’ Gallery is the first in North America to display the exhibit,  something the curator of art at The Founders’ Art Gallery, Lindsey Sharman, was pleased about.

“When I came across Fariba’s exhibition I was really, really blown away,” said Sharman.

“Not only by the pieces themselves and the cohesive story that the exhibition shares, but also by the history of Iran and of the Burnt Generation.

“The work being done by each of these artists is so carefully molded and constructed, and so too is the selection of the artists,” Sharman added.

According to one attendee at the opening ceremony, Minwoo Ro, the content of the photographs displayed “a lot of despair and a lot of pain.”

“I guess possibly because [the Burnt Generation] feel trapped in their situation and that’s something that Canadians are not very familiar with,” he said.

Ro explained that Canadians have access to resources that grant them the opportunity to change the course of their lives as they see fit, in order not to feel isolated or desolated.

For Iranians, he said, that freedom is limited, bringing about oppression on their country’s youth.

While he was pleased with the exhibit, Ro said it lacked a “balance of content.”

Ro said the contemporary nature of the photographs may denounce stereotypes held on the country’s artistic front, but it is still focused on the negative aspects of Iran—isolation and desolation.

Attendee Dona Schwartz also commented on how advanced the photographs appeared.

“It’s really interesting to see the visual idioms that these Iranian photographers are using to deal with political and cultural and social issues,” said Schwartz.

“You’re looking at these kinds of issues through a contemporary photographic lens,” she said.

“They really fit within sort of a larger world of photographic representation, so the idea of how Iranian photographs might somehow be separated from movements in photography in general is totally put to rest.”

The Burnt Generation Exhibition will remain on display at The Founders’ Gallery until April 12.

About Inonge Chimwaso 8 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Inonge Chimwaso worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2013-2014 academic year.