Sara Jamshidi

Project M—
Iranian stamps from Monarchies and Mullahs to Mardom

Identity—I’m inspired by Édouard Glissant’s perspective on it: ‘…neither the person’s identity, nor a collective identity, are fixed and established once and for all. I can change through exchange with the other without losing or deluding my sense of self.’

For Iranians who left their homes around the 1979 Islamic revolution and couldn’t go back, the stamps on the letters they received from their families in Iran became a window to the life in Iran. At the same time, and throughout history, Iran’s governments used stamps to impose an identity on the people inside the country, as well as broadcast it abroad as a collective image. This identity has always been biased and culturally insensitive.

“What if your only resource for learning about a country was a complete archive of its postage stamps? How accurately would this collection show the country’s history, culture and the collective identity of its people?

By expanding Iran’s stamp archive and representing the fluidity of its collective identity I aim to shed light on the untold sides of history that influence Iran’s cultural history.

Think about it: if you had a chance to rewrite history, wouldn’t you take it?

One series of erasured stamps use a drawing by renown Iranian cartoonist and illustrator, Mana Neyestani, which has become the icon for Iranian women campaigning against compulsory hejab. This icon is  next to a hand-written Republic of Iran in Farsi, by an Iranian-American citizen who risks being imprisoned for political reasons if gone back to Iran. They are framed by a pattern from the first Iranian stamp and overprinted on existing official stamps.

Originated in 12th century, Lion and Sun motif shows modern Iranian identity by combining all significant Iranian cultures throughout history, while started as a secular and astrological motif. After the 1979 Islamic revolution the Lion and Sun symbol was replaced by the present-day coat of arms of Iran, which is Arabic word Allah meaning God.
Khomeini’s face never appeared on stamps until after his death. Neither did Hashemi Rafsanjani’s, who was Iran’s president and one of the most important figures in establishing and maintaining Islamic Republic of Iran.

During each era the country was addressed differently, ranging from The Insulated States of Iran—until about 1906, to  The Sublime Government of Iran, during Pahlavi dynasty as well as The Estate of Iran, and Iran until 1979. After the Islamic revolution official stamps have either Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran, or I. R. Iran depending on multiple socio-political factors.

“Sara Jamshidi’s Project M—Iranian stamps from Monarchies to Mullahs to Mardom also interrogates objects that we regularly interact with, but may not approach as art objects. Using Iranian postage stamps from 1865 to 2018, Jamshidi’s work explores the country’s cultural and political history, lending a sense of materiality to these more abstract concepts. The project features stamps that the artist has inserted herself into which were franked and sent to Iran, leading to a synthesis of the roles of artist and participant, of critique and assimilation.” Show 2018 School of Communication: Questioning the Everyday
Kavous Seyed-Emami, Iranian-Canadian professor and environmentalist was detained by Iranian intelligence agents and died in prison on February 9, 2018.
“He had stood for many as a symbol of hope, the star of an inspirational video about the possibility of change”
—Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times, February 22, 2018.

Kavous Seyed-Emami was accused of being a spy for CIA and Mossad about Iran’s missile programmes. Iranian officials claim he died of suicide although they denied the chance for an independent autopsy to confirm the cause of Seyed Emami’s death. To this date they have not provided any evidence for his allegations, nor what they claim to be a suicide. During one of his last conversations about living a good life with his son, Ramin, Seyed-Emami said: “The key is to give love. That is where happiness comes from.”

His wife, Maryam Mombeini, was called to prison to see him. It wasn’t until after several hours of interrogation that they told her that her husband of 37 years had died at the age of 64.
Deaths of numerous other people in Iran’s prisons, as  well as unjust detention of many environmentalists, remain unexplained by the authorities.

Through my final project at RCA, I not only explored Iran’s collective identity and cultural history told by a comprehensive collection of its postage stamps, but also I focused on the events and people that are left out by the government and therefore not historically documented by this medium. I started the Independent Iranian Stamp Committee, which commemorates events, people and humanitarian campaigns that are neglected and banned by the Iranian government.

I’m using the new stamps and Iran’s official postal service to send postcards to random people in Iran. Each postcard is individually hand-written with a note that aims to make someone’s day a little better. Asks them how they’re doing. Or just reminds one person that we all have some bad days, and some times it’s okay not to be okay. Hopefully the stamps can help bring a smile on one person’s face when most people are just busy making the ends meet.