Rejecting broad-brush definitions of post-revolutionary art, What People Do With Images provides a nuanced account of artistic practice in Iran and its diaspora during the first part of the twenty-first century. Careful attention is paid to the effects of shifts in internal Iranian politics; the influence of US elections, travel bans and sanctions; and global media sensationalism and Islamophobia. Drawing widely on critical theory from both cultural studies and anthropology, Mazyar Lotfalian details an ecosystem for artistic production, covering a range of media, from performance to
installations and video art to films.
Museum curators, it is suggested, have mistakenly struggled to fit these works into their traditional-modern-contemporary schema, and political commentators have mistakenly struggled to position them as resistance, opposition or counterculture to Islam or the Islamic Republic. Instead, the author argues that creative artworks neutralize such dichotomies, working around them, and playing a sophisticated game of testing and slowly
shifting the boundaries of what is acceptable. They do so in part by neutralizing the boundaries of what is inside and outside the nation-state, travelling across the transnational circuits in which the domestic and diasporic arenas reshape each other. While this book offers the valuable opportunity to gain an understanding of the Iranian art scene, it also has a wider significance in asking more generally how identity politics is mediated by creative acts and images within transnational socio-political spheres.
“What People Do With Images is an exciting contribution to the growing anthropological engagement with contemporary art, especially work concerned with transformations in the circulation of culture. Drawing on Rancière and Mitchell, Lotfalian articulates an original framework for engaging his detailed discussion of the changing world(s) of Iranian art and visual culture, their mediation with (and of) the affairs of the world, arguing for art as ‘a meta-political space’ of ‘dissensus’. His approach to ‘the work of art’ – in the case of a rapidly growing and changing Iranian visual culture, reframed by digital media is all the more significant and moving given his insights as an anthropologist/participant. Lotfalian brings profound knowledge and sympathy to his engaging account of what contemporary Iranian artists ‘do with images’, revealing their implication in the national and transnational worlds in which they circulate.”
Professor Fred R. Myers,
New York University