photo & text by nacrowe
the graphic novel EMBROIDERIES (PANTHEON, 2003) by celebrated FRENCH-IRANIAN cartoonist MARJANE SATRAPI sheds insight on the often TABOO and often UNDISCLOSED and UNDISCUSSED SEXUAL ATTITUDES and personal lives of IRANIAN WOMEN. the graphic novel revolves around the remembered gathering of SATRAPI's GRANDMOTHER with her DAUGHTER as well as close friends and relatives, all WOMEN, for an evening samovar tea and PRYING discussion.
and that talk centers around SEX. at times SALACIOUS, these cascading tales of the physical and emotional disappoints and cultural DOUBLE STANDARDS of being a WOMEN are both SOBERING and INSIGHTFUL. they depict a GENDER SOCIAL LANDSCAPE that doesnt seem much different from WESTERN CULTURE, where woman are still prized for their physical attributes and MEN still hold much INSTITUTIONAL POWER. the title even references the lengths WOMEN will go to reestablish their untouched VIRGINAL state through PAINFUL, INVASIVE surgeries aimed at pleasing their MALE PARTNER, as well as the INTERWOVEN tapestry and mutually SUPPORTIVE network of experience witnessed in this all-FEMALE gathering. though these PERSONAL narratives that the WOMEN share with one another often depict past selves in LESS EMPOWERED circumstances, what they all share in common is a SUBVERSION to GENDER EXPECTATIONS surrounding FIDELITY. often this is shown through a leveraging of their DOMESTIC duties or SEXUAL DOMINANCE over an OLDER, SLUGGISH and wholly INEPT MALE PARTNER. even the ending shows the PATRIARCH of the SATRAPI family pushed back to his room with no input or fight of his behalf in the matter. its an INTERESTING metaphor for the lives of WOMEN in IRANIAN culture that although their public lives are STRICT and PREDETERMINED, the inner dynamics on the home front are not up for discussion.
and none of this should be any surprise to anyone. GENDER DYNAMICS are a manifestation of a much larger conversation regarding one's ability to self identify and public express one's INDIVIDUALITY. generations of WOMEN in IRAN brought this state of affairs regarding CONSERVATIVE GENDER RELATIONS and SEXUAL MORES to fruition through either SUBMISSION, COLLABORATION or quiet acquiescence to AUTHORITY. i question whether these closed circles of INTERGENERATIONAL FEMALE networks have the potential to change the state of affairs. such is definitely currently in play in IRAN in the wake of the police custody death of 22 year-old student MAHSA AMINI and the PROTESTS that have followed. interestingly, MEN have joined their ranks. its a dynamic still being played out and the discussions elucidated in EMBROIDERIES definitely seem PRESCIENT to that movement.
photo & text by nacrowe
through an eloquently told and LOVINGLY depicted generations old family narrative about her great-uncle during pre-revolution IRAN, CHICKEN WITH PLUMS (PANTHEON, 2009) by FRENCH-PERSIAN author / cartoonist MARJANE SATRAPI is an extended meditation about the DELICATE relationship between ART and SUFFERING.
NASSER ALI is a TAR musician of note whose life was DERAILED by his INABILITY to secure a desired marriage due to his would-be bride's family qualms about his profession. out of duty to his family he agreed to a LOVELESS marriage of which he felt no sense of KINSHIP or RESPONSIBILITY and after his wife destroys his TAR he wishes only to DIE.
there is an interesting parallel with his mother, who years earlier was held back by DEATH by NASSER's constant praying for her SURVIVAL. after being asked to stop praying on her behalf and let her go, as well as continue playing music outside her window, DEATH is utilized as a form of DEEP COMPASSION. the music that soothed her through the process was informed by this closely felt sense of LOSS but also EMPATHY towards her condition. when NASSER himself seeks DEATH in a SIMILAR manner there is no sense of COMPASSION or EMPATHY, but instead a deep reservoir of SELFISHNESS and SELF-PITY.
its interesting that his master tutor when training to master the TAR catches on to his LOVELORN SUFFERING and that his career, reputation and GLORY as a musician was based on such an INTIMATE sense of IRREDEEMABLE LOSS and CONSTANT MISERY. the destruction of his INSTRUMENT is in essence the loss of his IDENTITY, which itself was just the collected remnants of an UNREQUITED LOVE. its all quite TRAGIC and quite MOVING.
i should also give mention to the POWER of SATRAPI's images which are heavily inked-out in a strict monochrome palette that simultaneously exudes a SEVERE tone of austerity as well as intimates a sense of lyrical mystery. its both MINIMALIST and highly EXPRESSIVE and really uplifts the POWERFUL narrative themes of surrounding the COMPLICATED nature of LOVE, FAMILY and DUTY to a preternatural extent. its a masterclass in STORYTELLING and comes off as a deeply felt coming to terms with a family TRAUMA generations old but as relevant to the current moment as it was back then before society was effectively shut down after the ISLAMIC REVOLUTION. CHICKEN WITH PLUMS is required reading in my opinion.