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Review: Laurence Rasti — There Are No Homosexuals in Iran (Edition Patrick Frey)

In There are No Homosexuals in Iran (published by Edition Patrick Frey, Zurich) by Swiss-born Iranian photographer Laurence Rashti, we visit Denizli, an industrial city in southwest Turkey’s Aegean region. It has a population of more than 600,000, and has a thriving textile industry. It is close to Turkey’s famed natural and architectural wonders, including the nearby ancient ruins of Hierapolis and the mineral-coated hillside hot springs of Pamukkale. Rasti’s photographs focuses on the city’s residents. The featured first-person narratives are affecting and intimate all at once.

Through Rasti’s work we learn that Denizli is seen by many as an in-between place – one of refuge and hopeful salvation, especially by queer young people who have been forced to flee from neighbouring Iran. Linked through forcible exile, the queer refugees portrayed in the book seek a peaceful life without prejudice and persecution – a fate they face in their home country. Rasti’s subjects are defiant and unflinching in their conviction and right to be able to live like anyone else.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the sixth President of Iran (2005–13), addressed Columbia University, New York, in 2007 and declared, “In Iran, we do not have homosexuals like in your country”. Sentiments like this inform the ideological and cultural environment that queer Iranians grapple with.

Rasti’s subjects are in search of a society in which they can freely be themselves – one that acknowledges, affirms and supports people regardless of sexual orientation. Rasti frames the bravery and conviction these people must present, in the aftermath of having to flee from their homeland and their families for what could be a undefined amount of time.

Under Shari’a law, homosexuality is discussed under the categories of lavat (consensual sex between men) and mosahegheh (consensual sex between women). The book opens with Q&As between Rasti and several Denizli residents, revealing the sentiment that queer people are often encouraged to undergo gender-reassignment surgery in order to legally live with their partner in Iran. But gender is unrelated to sexual orientation and is not something anyone should be forced to change.

There are organisations like the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees and The Iranian Queer Organisation that promote advocacy and awareness and also provide support for queer Iranians. Despite systems in place to work for those affected by isolation and exile due to their sexual orientation, many end up seeking refuge overseas in countries such as Canada. Initiating change in a conservative country is something that may take years to eventuate.

It is these conditions that inform Rasti’s photographs. Somewhat formalist in structure and framed with subtle hues, her subjects bestow a specific, sensitive beauty. It’s a particular beauty that relates to the frailty of the conditions imposed upon her subjects – living between two lives as courageously and honestly as possible given the circumstances. The captured narratives arguably what gives emotive power to the images which are consistently implicit. Although we don’t know the subjects, we get a sense of their thoughts, feelings and experiences that led them on their journey away from their lives in Iran to Turkey.

In Denizli, Rasti’s subjects can finally express their true selves. Although the existence of such a place is so freeing, there is a sense of sadness imbued within each image. Fleeing from one’s home should never have to be an option, let alone for something as uncontrollable as one’s sexual orientation and the freedom to choose, which should be a basic human right for all.

Text: Angela Garrick

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Perimeter x Heavy is an editorial collaboration exploring contemporary photography, art, design and their various relationships to the published form. Produced in-house by the team at Melbourne-based bookstore, publisher and distribution house Perimeter and Sydney-based photography magazine and online platform The Heavy Collective, Perimeter x Heavy comprises book reviews, interviews, studio visits and features. While further expounding the published output of artists who feature across both Perimeter and Heavy's inventories, the platform aims to provide thoughtful insights into the wider here and now of contemporary publishing practice.