Aesthetic Significance and Failure in Shadi Ghadirian’s Photographic Reflections on War in Nil, Nil
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The Iran-Iraq war began in September 1980, immediately following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and lasted through August 1988. During the war, and for some years after the end of it, the dominant approaches to visualize the war mainly included documentary photography and propagandistic posters and public murals. Later, a gradual aesthetic turn in the realm of the arts replaced the earlier practices. Shadi Ghadirian’s Nil, Nil (2008), a series of eighteen photographs, is one example of this aesthetic turn. Thinking about this turn in postwar Iranian society in general and Iranian art in particular, I examine Nil, Nil both to recount the artistic significance of the work, and to criticize its aesthetic structure, followed by recounting its potential social consequences. As for the artistic significance, I suggest that the artistic reflection on war invalidates the post-revolutionary state’s propagandistic discourse that had exploited the war as a means to promote and sustain its ideological cause. Against the backdrop of the growing internal political tensions, and social frustrations with the consequences of the revolution, I argue that the propagandistic and undemocratic visualization of war was influential on the problematic reception of these visual representations among those parts of the society who were unable to relate to propaganda, which ran short of a more inclusive and all-embracing addressing of war. In this sense, the importance of an artistic contemplation of war lies in its attempt to challenge the propagandistic, exclusive addressing of war, and to come up with possibilities that could unravel the experience of war in more inclusive and all-encompassing ways. As for the aesthetic critique, I argue, according to Theodor W. Adorno’s aesthetic theory, that the formal choice around which Nil, Nil is structured has failed to effectively promote the content. Focusing on the notions of tension, contradiction, and shudder as features of an aesthetic experience, I suggest how the work fails to meet these features, thus lowers itself to the boundaries of kitsch. Finally, I conclude that Nil, Nil’s aesthetic failure, accompanied by the artist’s choice of representing a very individual narration of war, weakens the political effectiveness of the work as it fails to aesthetically diversify the addressing of war.
SubjectIranian Contemporary Art, Iran-Iraq War, 1979 Iranian Revolution, Propaganda, Aesthetics