Keywan Tafteh

Azizam is a universal term of endearment in Farsi. It is used with family, friends, and lovers. Iran is known for hospitality and intimate social greetings; men and women alike will come together and kiss each other on the cheek in warm embrace. Though when it comes to sexuality, they are a repressed and homophobic country (gay sex and identity became punishable by death after the 1979 Revolution). In this photo series, Tafteh gathers items from his home and studio to create arrangements of symbols. He questions his own identity as a homosexual Iranian-American, where he is lucky to be surrounded by queer friends, but is strained by a conservative family and generational trauma.

With these gatherings, Tafteh queers objects and histories by means of juxtaposition, collage, and close observation. Symbols reappear throughout the series, such as the pomegranate, dagger, and cherub. Persian mythology shows the pomegranate as an authority over death, fruit of luxury, and object of desire. It reappears in art and literature, from the romantic poems of Rumi and Hafiz to traditional persian miniatures, where the fruit accompanies scenes of worldly pleasures and heavenly visions. Photos such as Sucked Dry and Rotten Heart show the artist engaged with the fruit, his lips in contact with its skin and hands fondling the heart. This closeness holds an eroticism, yet the faded coloring, shadowed figures, and rotting fruit show remorse. The dagger, a gift from Tafteh’s grandmother, references his family directly as he touches his skin in Arm & Dagger. The sharp weapon points to a tattoo of King Cyrus, who reappears in King of Gay. Tafteh challenges the historic depiction of masculinity, showing a vulnerability by his pained gesture in the former photo and by imposing a nude torso in the latter. Taking this ancient imagery as a starting point, he adds personal objects into the scene, creating a collage within the frame/speaking on the nature of diaspora. With the cherub, he speaks on his Western identity, looming in the background. This symbol of innocence is juxtaposed with the pomegranate and silver plate of kings, further commenting on hesitation within sexual identity.

In these real and imagined histories, there is a longing for sensuality personified by inanimate objects and their combinations. If the artist is present in a photograph he is either shadowed or fragmented; he is merely an extension of the object held. Alone, the items are merely documents of a family. It is in their groupings Tafteh creates visual motifs to discuss issues of identity.

Rotten Heart

Sucked Dry


Arm & Dagger

King of Gay

Pass the Torch


Forbidden Fruit

Still Life (Hossein)

Running Water

Window to the Garden

Fleeting Touch


My deepest thanks to Paul Sepuya,
Yan Yu,
fellow VISARTS cohort,
and my father.