From the destruction of kitchen walls that are supposed to separate women from men, to the artistic decoration of domestic rooms, an architect has captured “signs of resistance” of Iranian women in their own homes.
At the Sharjah Architecture Triennial of the United Arab Emirates until February 8, the Iranian-Australian architect Samaneh Moafi shows how Iranian women live for themselves in the patriarchal structures that surround them.
One example, the architect said, was how several women with whom she had worked on her project “Parable of More” (Compassion ”in Farsi) removed a wall in their apartments that women in the kitchen of men in should separate the living area.
“They showed their desire for a better life,” Moafi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as she walked through the installation. She also regarded the women who decorated their houses with elaborate decorations – especially practical living rooms such as kitchens – as a “sign of resistance”.
Moafi’s work takes its name from one of Iran’s largest public housing initiatives, built under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The ambitious multi-project was launched in 2007 and, according to the Iranian Ministry of Roads and Urban Development, is to build 4 million residential units nationwide. However, priority for the units was given to married men who feed a family and otherwise could not afford property, said Moafi.
The architect pointed out that the multi-buildings only have a few common areas, so that the women who live in them – often from different communities – have little opportunity to interact.
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That is why the customized household items in her installation, which are displayed under the green lighting common in Shi’ite Islam, are associated with certain rituals that cannot be performed alone, she explained.
They are meant to create a relationship between women who live in the same buildings, but “rarely speak to their neighbors or know what is going on outside,” said Moafi, adding that the multi-units were originally intended for those who were very affordable.
Applicants could get a bail loan of up to 250 million rials ($ 6,000) that covers more than half the total price of an average multiple dwelling, she said.
Since President Hassan Rohani came to power in August 2013, he has been heavily criticized for the initiative, said Kevan Harris, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
According to Harris, author of a book on politics and the welfare state in Iran, the project was a “big expense” for the government of Rohani and a main reason for the inflation rising to 40%.
Even today, housing pressures are increasing the cost of living, one of the main reasons for protests in the country, he added in comments sent via email.
Hundreds of young Iranian and working-class Iranians took to the streets in November to protest the rise in fuel prices, which Moafi said is “very serious” for residents of Mehr Townships, which are usually poorly connected to public transport ,
A spokesman for the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development was not available to comment.
In December, the Iranian planning and housing agency reported that residential property in Tehran cost more than 134 million rials per square meter. In a country where the government’s average monthly household income is less than Rial 27 million, housing construction is unreachable for many.
Rohani’s new National Housing Project, which opened in November for enrollment, is said to stimulate the private sector to bring 400,000 affordable homes to the market by 2021, according to local media reports.
It is planned to avoid more perceived errors by building each new house only when a willing and able buyer is willing to buy the property, and by placing the houses in more accessible areas, reports say.
As far as the multi-residential project is concerned, the completed units are no longer subsidized and can be sold or rented privately.
From a legal point of view, the units are now available to anyone who can pay for them. But the patriarchal system on which the housing units were founded is still at work, Moafi said.
At the beginning of their project, the architect and her staff split into groups and asked real estate agents if they wanted to rent a residential unit in one of the apartment blocks in Pardis, a municipality near Tehran.
“The guy was like ‘Three single girls? I don’t think I can find anything for you, “laughed Moafi.
When she started her project and spoke to women who live in the Mehr houses today, Moafi noticed a lack of communication and solidarity between them.
Part of the reason for their isolation is that women tended to stay in their homes while men represented their families outside.
“The women are all workers, but some are urban, others have a rural background and they don’t really go together,” said the architect.
As a test for their prototype “assembly of objects”, Moafi gathered some women in a Mehr car park in Isfahan to participate in a ritual known as Nazri – a prayer exercise done to solve a problem. In this case, it was a labor-intensive dish called Sholeh Zard, a traditional Iranian saffron rice pudding.
It took the group eleven hours to prepare the dish, which Moafi says is “impossible to cook in large quantities alone,” as is the case with a Nazri. Four women were initially involved, and over time more women joined.
The women all lived in the same area, but most didn’t know each other, Moafi noted.
Nevertheless, the women worked together while cooking and talked to the group about their problems.
“It doesn’t mean that they’re all happy friends living together now,” said Moafi. “(But) a ritual is a break from everyday life.”