Who is Ramak Bamzar?
I am an Iranian-Australian fine arts photographer. Yes, I take photographs, but less like a photographer, more like a painter, to create tableaus and visual vignettes full of story and emotion. I love colours and textiles – they’re an important element to my compositions because I believe they are vital in evoking certain feelings and memories.
I was born in Tehran in 1980 in a middle-class family, right after the Islamic revolution of 1979. Soon after, the Iran-Iraq War started. Many of my memories go back to my mother’s anxiety with the absence of my father who was in the air force. Due to missile attacks on Tehran my parents were forced to send me and my sister to a safe town, to live with my grandparents. The stay lasted for a year, without seeing my parents, and I suffered so much from homesickness.
At the end of the war, after eight years, a new life began under the brutal power of the Islamic Republic. The oppression, discrimination and gender control in public spaces and school environments was dramatic and complete. Born into a secular family this was a great imposition and has always raised many questions and dilemmas within me.
My current artworks are an honest reflection of my personal and psychological experiences as a woman who lived under a system of theocratic oppression and are a personal reaction to my memories.
What would you do differently from what you do now?
What I do more than anything these days is to make art completely honestly, without fear of judgment and censorship. This started when I returned to the university after almost 20 years and started to study my Master of Fine Arts at RMIT, which gave me the opportunity to delve into myself and my psyche, and after the Woman Life Freedom uprising in Iran in 2022 I was doubly emboldened to express myself and to stand up for women under oppression.
In the last eight years, my focus has been on the individual and psychological reactions of Middle Eastern women under the influence of environmental, cultural, and religious conditions. The issue of how the place where we are born – without having a choice – shapes our life and identity.
My interest in this issue increased after immigrating to Australia in 2010. Migration provided me with a platform to look at myself, and the environment in which I grew up from the outside, and re-examining things through the lens of sociology and psychology, along with my experiences and visual memories, I can depict and explore pivotal moments in my life.
Who inspires you and why?
Inspiration is not limited to one person, so this question hardly even makes sense – all my inspiration comes from life – from living and loving; from my psyche and my memories and particularly my experiences as woman who grew in an authoritarian, theocratic society.
In my creative practice, I like to imitate life, and I consider imitation as a key principle of my art, indeed, Plato viewed art as an imitation of life.
What would you do to make a difference in the world?
For me, the human condition is a critical issue, that in the true sense we are all similar in terms of humanity, so showing how people change according to the environmental, cultural, and social conditions in which they grow, can affect the thinking of others, and make the world a kinder place to live.
Favourite holiday destination and why?
Going to Iran without anxiety and worry! Every town in Iran is a small museum, with houses and sites holding thousands of years of history; there are ancient plane trees, sacred mountains, architecture unique to specific locations, and a vast variety of distinct people groups.
When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
I take them to my local café, and to Australian nature, like the lush, ferny gullies of the Dandenong Ranges.
What are you currently reading?
On Photography by Susan Sontag – it is a deeply philosophical book about the unique purpose and power of photography and it’s really blowing my mind.
What are you currently listening to?
I love to dance around the house to my pop Iranian music, I chill out to Iranian classical music which reminds my old homeland and can listen for hours to Cold Little Heart by Michael Kiwanuka.
For me, happiness means being able to be my true self and being with the people I love and who love me for who I am.
What does the future hold for you?
Creating and learning for me is an endless process that continues. Each creative project opens a new world for me, which is full of ideas and wonder. Reading and research is the way I learn, get inspired and create. The future is full of creation, the joy of expression, and the simple wonder of loving.
Ramak’s visually stunning and emotionally charged works can be seen in the exhibition, Pro Femina – which is on display at the Art Gallery of Ballarat until 5 November, as part of the 2023 Ballarat International Foto Biennale. For more information, visit: www.artgalleryofballarat.com.au or www.ballaratfoto.org for details.
Image: Ramak Bamzar – courtesy of the Artist