women creating art in today’s Iran could be classified as an “Outsider Artist,”
because you just cannot get anymore “outside” than a woman trying to express
herself artistically in the Islamist state.
The devout Akram Sartakhti apparently has no interest in political
subject matter, but she still must navigate the institutionalized
misogyny. Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami
documents her work and complicated domestic life in Going Up the Stairs: a Portrait of an Unlikely Iranian Artist (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
the age of nine, Sartakhti was married off the Heider Rahimi, a colleague of
her father’s, who was seventeen years her senior. When the Shah was scheduled to visit her
school, Sartkhti and her classmates were told to leave their headscarves at
home. Instead, she dropped out before
learning how to read. For years, she
lived in fear of her domineering husband, but as they advanced in age, her comparative
youth somewhat turned the tables. Late
in life, she turned the second floor of their townhouse into a studio.
Iranian law grants husbands ironclad control over their wives. Throughout Stairs, Sartakhti is worried Rahimi will refuse her permission to
travel to Paris, where her grown children have organized an exhibition of her
work, as an arbitrary means of asserting his power.
paintings clearly fit within the Outsider rubric. While nowhere near as polished or
sophisticated as Iran Darroudi’s surreal landscapes, her surprisingly large
canvasses show an intriguing sense of composition and a striking use of
color. They are worth seeing, but of
course public exhibition will always be a tricky proposition for any woman
artist under the current regime.
as her own camera crew, Maghami obviously earned the trust of the artist and
her husband. Still, one wonders what
happens after she left. Frankly, there
is often a pronounced disconnect between the on-screen calm captured on film
and the bitter stories Sartakhti tells of the early years of her arranged
marriage. Many people will take Stairs as proof arranged spouses can
always grow to love each other, but at what cost? Maghami’s doc is rather ambiguous on this
Nevertheless, the fifty-one minute Stairs pretty clearly establishes the
mandated gender inequalities of today’s Iran and how they severely hinder even
a staunchly traditional woman like Sartakhti.
An interesting portrait of an artist marginalized simply because she is
a woman, Going Up the Stairs is one
of the stronger selections of this year’s Human Rights Watch Fest. It screens on a double bill with Camera/Woman this coming Sunday (6/16)
at the IFC Center and the following Tuesday (6/18) at the Francesca Beale
Labels: Akram Sartakhti, Documentary, HRWFF '13, Iranian Cinema