My childhood was marked by documentations of a lot of firsts. My family, sharing my aunt’s lone mini-DV camcorder among their whole big group, has decided what the pivotal moments to be captured for me were. I have often asked myself, “Who were they capturing these moments for?” Remembering my grandfather’s ID, with no birthdate on it, I think about this footage as a way, an attempt, to construct or retrieve a rigid, tangible family history. On another note, in a family full of outspoken people who have had their bravery paid for with exile and prison, etc., I can’t trace any encouragement for leaving any written or captured documentation of anyone’s actual life in our previous generation. The reason probably involves their early years — a generation of pride, of protests, of revolution. A camera trained on the tumultuous streets of their youth, a cinema verité of the people, turned its lens, over time, to personal moments, zoomed inward. And yet, looking back – watching a red skirt and wavy hair become a dark uniform and tight, covered braids — these personal moments drift back to a political space. At age seven, the personal becomes public for all Iranian girls, as the law compels them to cover themselves in a specific way just to be able to attend school.
This archive of personal footage I inherited is precious, a reference point to discover the beginnings of the establishment of my future path. Warm voices, out of frame, present yet invisible. The wish for higher education, a seven-year-old girl’s knowledge of the word Ph.D. A cultural colonialism that has already taught this girl an accented English alphabet without even knowing her first language completely. These elements, and so many more unmentioned and unmentionable, eventually lead the young woman to leave the country, as if her life’s course were predestined. Keeping the family ritual of documenting, this time she is doing it herself, as if there were no one, nothing between her and the camera: a pure practice of writing with the camera, a video essay with documentary touches, a mirror of the influx of entangled subjects of a culture.
Pegah Pasalar (b. 1992) is an Iranian interdisciplinary artist, filmmaker and film editor currently based between Chicago and Brooklyn. Her autoethnographic practice encompasses video, installation, and film and explores themes including identity convulsion, cultural memory, fragmentation, temporality and displacement. Pegah is particularly interested in oral histories and modes of storytelling people use to refabulate the past.
Pasalar was a full-merit scholarship awardee at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from which she received her MFA with a focus on film and video. Pasalar was selected to participate in the Lit and Luz visual arts program as part of the Chicago Mexico City MacArthur-backed exchange program on the theme of displacement.
She was a recipient of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs grant, 3ARTS’ “Make a Wave” grant, and has received fellowships including the Kala Media Residency Award, Bemis, Yaddo, Banff, UnionDocs, and Points North. She was recognized as one of NEWCITY Magazine’s 2020 Film 50 Gems. Her work has been exhibited at festivals around the world, including the Athens International Film and Video Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de Buenos Aires (FIDBA), Austria International Film Festival, Onion City Film Festival, Ecra and more.