Shadi 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 public flogging.
Yousefian, her husband, and their friends were arrested and spent the next day in jail. "I was really scared," she says. "I thought, âThis 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."