Yousefian's self-portraits might be better described as self/ other-self
portraits. "My work is about immigrant identity," says
the 24-year-old MFA student who moved to the United States from
Iran when she was 16. "I don't feel like one person anymore."
Yousefian got her first camera as a gift when she was 14, but didn't
pursue her craft seriously until she enrolled in her first photography
class at SFSU in 2001. Inside a darkroom at State, she says, she
was "fascinated by the way the image slowly emerged from the
paper. I fell in love."
Her work became decidedly political after a transformative visit
to Iran during the summer of 2002. Yousefian and her husband, Ardalan
Payvar, were at a party outside of Tehran when it was raided by
the police. The mixing of unmarried men and women and the use of
alcohol is illegal under Iran's strict Islamic laws; both men and
women caught together at social gatherings are often punished by
Yousefian, her husband, and their friends were arrested and spent
the next day in jail. "I was really scared," she says.
"I thought, ‘This is the last time I am coming to Iran.'"
Yousefian paid a fine and was released.
After being in jail, Yousefian decided to use her
photography to explore the restrictions of freedom in Iran.
Today she creates self-portraits by altering her 35mm negatives
with scissors, glue, paint, and even flame to create images that
reflect her changing identity. In many of the photographs, her mouth
is taped over or scratched out, symbolizing women's experience under
Iran's theocratic government.
Yousefian's photography, which was shown at Barcelona's Art-Cubic
Gallery last spring, has been warmly received at SFSU. "My
teachers are really supportive," she says. "They encourage
me to work in my own style. It's important for teachers to give
creative freedom to students."
Photo by Shadi Yousefian