Congratulations to the winner of the 2016 Ryan R. Gibbs Photography Contest, Gazelle Naghshbandi!
Gazelle’s work was chosen as the winning selection by Karrie Higgins with the following:
In All Are Immigrants, Gazelle Naghshbandi creates uncomfortable, challenging, and in many cases, hauntingly familiar images of her experience as an immigrant from Iran to the United States.
In each of her self-portraits, Naghshbandi has created a gaping hole in her abdomen, representing what she calls a “nagging question”: “Why do I feel empty and unfulfilled? Why do I have a hole and feel emptiness?” The pieces of her lost “identity, emotions, and memories” become a physical burden, an inescapable part of who she is.
In one photo, she stands on the ocean shore, facing away from the water, the handle of a wheeled suitcase clutched in her right hand. Through the “window” of her abdomen: ocean waves. Americans, she says, are always asking questions about her culture, her immigration status, her future. I found myself looking through her gaping hole to the ocean beyond. I wondered what was packed in the suitcase, how she got to the shore, what her story was, if she was arriving or departing: I felt my complicity. In my interest, in my questions, I have contributed to the hole. I am taking. It’s uncomfortable, this realization, and it is part of the photograph’s power.
My autobiographical thesis work narrates my life after immigration and examines the pit that exists within me. I have been in America for three years. At first, everything seemed ideal and I longed for my American Dream since I had grown up with that dream in Iran—the dream of the land of opportunity, a perfect life, and a place where I can have success and follow my dreams. But soon after immigrating, I was left with a nagging question: why do I feel empty and unfulfilled? Why do I have a hole and feel emptiness? What is the meaning of this hole to me? Why do I feel I am missing something? When I left my homeland, pieces of my identity, emotions, and memories were left behind and there was little left of my previous existence.
My thesis work directly engages the audience so they too can feel this emptiness. Based on my experience, I am attempting to offer a new and real perspective about immigration to challenge existing assumptions about migrants. I want to change Western society’s perspective by showing the reality of all the challenges and struggles I face—focusing on factors such as cultural identity, patterns of attachment, prolonged periods of separation, and psychological and emotional displacement. I seek to create empathy in the audience. How can one make a new identity blending in a new culture and environment, not as victim but as a strong and brave character? My art shows this narrative and also shows its results.
By showing that emptiness is a universal human experience, my audience, especially American viewers, can directly connect to me as person, not just as immigrant, and gain a better understanding of the immigration experience. I think all people are immigrants and can have this pit. I am not the only person that felt alien in this culture after immigration. At some point, everybody feels empty and has a lack of something. As I work through my own fears and shortcomings in my art, I’ve come to believe that all people are immigrants traveling across the oceans of Time and Change. “All Are Immigrants” depicts my void as a hole. When I felt a huge hole in my body, I was thinking how this hole appeared in my life after immigration.
Gazelle Naghshbandi is an active artist focusing on Iranian-American cultural and identity concerns. Her narrative works uses the multimedia forms of digital collage, video, sound installation, and photography. Her persian perspective reflects a nostalgia for her cultured past, while documenting her transition as she adjusts to a new culture. She is residing in the United States, in pursuit of her goal to share her Middle Eastern heritage and viewpoint with a western audience.
“All Are Immigrants” is the winner of the 2016 Ryan R Gibbs Photography contest judged this year by Karrie Higgins. Visit our contest page for more information.