Iranian photographer exhibition opens at 4Most gallery
While on a summer tour of rural Iran, Foad Seyed Mohammadi came across a man with no hands. He saw the man in a bustling bazaar in a western village near Sardasht, not far from the Iraqi border. He saw the round stumps of man amid the swirling colors of the cloth for sale and the intoxicating aroma of spices.
Mohammadi approached the man with his camera in his hand. And clicked.
And with that, the 38-year-old artist stopped time; captured a moment for eternity. He told the story of a farmer and shepherd named Omar, who lost both hands in a terrible childhood incident.
At the age of 10, Omar tried to grab an object the size of a tomato that he saw lodged in the ground. It was a bomb.
It was the mid-1990s and a civil war was raging among the Kurds, including factions based in Iran. Omar didn’t remember what had happened except that he had woken up in a hospital bed to the sound of his mother’s moans. The family had found him covered in blood; they had thought he was dead.
Instead, Omar learned to live without his hands.
Mohammadi’s images have etched Omar’s story in the collective minds of all who see her. With a photograph, he transports the viewer to a mountainous village and engulfs them in a story of hope and humanity.
The new 4Most gallery art exhibition, “Nonsense”, a photographic story about Omar, his hands and his life will be presented from May 18 to 24 at the gallery, located at 534 SW 4e Street.
A series of photographs document Omar swimming in a pool. The images suspend him in time, between blows and splashes. The camera catches her smiling daughter; Omar’s arm resting on his shoulder.
Although Mohammadi found Omar by chance, their friendship created a lasting impact in each of their lives.
Mohammadi grew up in Tehran, and after high school, he enrolled in Tehran Art University to study textile design, printing, and fashion. He moved to Gainesville in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree in photography; His passion for the camera, driven by a desire to help people in his work.
“I loved art as a kind of international language for the connection between all cultures… without any limitation,” Mohammadi said.
Mohammadi particularly enjoys portrait photography. As a volunteer at Saraye Ehsan, a mental hospital in Iran, he spent time teaching patients and taking photographs of them. The experience, he said, changed his life.
“The first thing I remember was the smell of drugs,” Mohammadi said. “Most of them, they had no feelings, I couldn’t relate to them.”
A photograph Mohammadi took of the asylum, titled “The Death of Marat,” won the Best in Show award at the Art in Isolation Gainesville Fine Art Association Gallery in March. Mohammadi captured a hand hanging over the side of a flowered hospital bed that evokes sadness and mystery.
Mohammadi took advantage of the COVID lockdown to review old hard drives and files filled with past photographs of all the places he had once explored. He reviewed his photos of Omar from the summer he spent traveling in rural Iran in 2019 and decided to submit them for exhibition.
Mohammadi came across the title of his show, “Nonsense”. It’s a play on words: even though Omar will receive prosthetics, he still won’t be able to feel anything with them. His anguished prosthetic hands won’t be able to feel his daughters’ hair or splash water in a swimming pool, but he can finally hold a glass of tea or help his daughters tie their shoelaces.
Morgan Yacoe, the 32-year-old curator and artist in residence at 4Most Gallery, said she finds the humanity Mohammadi has invested in his work beautiful. She wanted to display this personal story at the gallery.
“I think the first thing that really struck me with Foad’s work, especially this exhibition, is how he created this body of work to help someone in a very direct way,” Yacoe said. . “I thought it was really powerful and poetic and my goal was very strong.”
“There is a closeness to life in his pieces, in all of his work,” Yacoe said.
Mohammadi contacted Yacoe with the idea of raising funds to buy prosthetics for Omar. She put him in touch with a friend at the Generational Relief in Prosthetics (GRiP) Lab, a UF student organization that provides personalized prosthetics to people.
After a meeting in November, the GRiP Lab agreed to make prostheses for Omar.
One photograph, in particular, struck a chord with Yacoe. It showed Omar working in the field, swinging a rope between his shoulders and arms to create a pulley against the lush vegetation. The purple sky faded behind Omar and the rugged mountain range surrounded him. This left Yacoe’s colleagues speechless.
“When that image came up, they all took their breath away,” Yacoe said. “You can really see the struggle; how difficult and necessary prosthetics are for him.
Prostheses can cost anywhere from $ 5,000 to $ 50,000. Using a 3D printing machine cuts costs and expenses at just a fraction of that. The cost of making a prosthesis with GRiP is between $ 20 and $ 30. The GRiP Lab is funded mainly by the departments of the UF and supported by donations and sponsorships. Beneficiaries generally receive their prostheses free of charge.
Melissa Isoba, 21-year-old team captain in the 3D printed assistive devices team with the GRiP lab, said the lab will make a non-nested bare arm prosthesis for Omar. It is an elbow powered hand for people who do not have a functioning wrist and cannot use wrist powered devices.
Working with a recipient halfway around the world has been a challenge. It was difficult to communicate given that Omar lives in a village without modern infrastructure, Isoba said. The lab is waiting for a courier to deliver photos of Omar’s arms alongside a ruler for prosthetic measurements.
Once the lab receives the photos, the process should proceed quickly. The team will use software called Blender to size the prosthesis, then use a 3D printing machine to make the non-nested arm. Then the team will build the prosthesis and eventually send them to Omar in Iran.
“This would be the first time I have done this for a recipient,” Isoba said. “I know he has a family, people who depend on him. I know it’s going to be such a rewarding feeling.
While the GRiP lab is focused on finishing the prostheses as quickly as possible, Mohammadi and Yacoe are focused on preparing the exhibit for the public.
“I take the initiative from the artist, but then offer suggestions if they’re open to it,” Yacoe said. “It’s always a really fun and engaging process.”
Mohammadi said he loves to share his work during performances and create a space where the viewer can interact with the images beyond the frame.
“Art gives me a source of freedom,” Mohammadi said. “I can’t explain it, even in my language.”
Mohammadi has completed his MFA and hopes to work in an art gallery or maybe in a newspaper so that he can continue making pictures.
But his big dream is to travel across the United States and document the people and places he sees. To take the open highways and capture portraits that forever mark a moment and tell a story that night otherwise never before known.