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TO MAY 28, 2000 & FEB. 28, 2000
Antoin Sevruguin and the Persian Image and
Constructing Identities: Recent Works by Jananne al-Ani
These two exhibitions are linked by more than the fact that they’re displayed in neighboring galleries. Although Sevruguin died in 1933 and al-Ani wasn’t born until 1966, both photographers toy with traditional images of the mysterious orient. An Armenian Christian who moved in the highest circles of Iranian society, Sevruguin made images that are alternately naturalistic and obviously posed. He exposed many glass negatives—most of them subsequently lost—in the court of 19th-century Iranian ruler Nasir al-din Shah, himself an avid photographer; some of these images are stiff, but they also include one of the shah having his mustache dyed (pictured) and another in which Sevruguin himself is playfully reflected in a mirror in an elaborate palace interior. The works that connect early professional photographer Sevruguin to art-schooled postmodernist al-Ani are his harem fantasies, in which women (some obviously Western) pose as objects of exotic eroticism. To judge from her show, al-Ani would not approve. The daughter of an Iraqi father and Irish mother, al-Ani lived in Iraq till she was 13, when she moved to the U.K. and began contemplating the ways Middle Eastern women are portrayed. The result is a series of photographs in which al-Ani, her three sisters, and her mother are depicted in everything from Western sports gear to full chador and veil. The artist’s impeccably conceptual works are completely on-message—so much so that seeing more than one is quite unnecessary. Both exhibitions are on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, “Antoin Sevruguin” to Sunday, May 28, 2000, and “Constructing Identities” to Monday, Feb. 28, 2000, at the Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-4880. (Mark Jenkins)