Qajar Women exhibition

Museum of Islamic Art exhibition showcases images of women in 19th century Iran

Qajar Women exhibition

Opening in April, this relatively small exhibition about the women of Iran’s Qajar period (1785-1925) explores their lives, their role in the art produced during the time, and the contemporary artists whose work is inspired by it.

Although the motif of women in Iranian art was nothing new, over the years of the Qajar period they began to feature more and more frequently, centrally, and with an increasing realism. Images depicting the lives of women in Qajar Iran can be found everywhere, in the paintings of the time as well as on smaller objects such as lacquered mirror cases and pen boxes. Visitors will be able to view original examples as part of the exhibition along with manuscripts, ceramics and jewellery, which together forms a collection of around 40 historical objects and artworks.

The display is arranged around four central themes: ideas of beauty, the daily lives of women, aristocratic women and the Qajar court, and the use of women as symbol for various complex emotions and concepts.

One of the most interesting items included in the exhibition is an album of watercolour paintings that details the day-to-day activities of women of the time: shopping at markets, attending the mosque, relaxing at home and celebrating festivities.

Also on display will be pieces by contemporary artists Shadi Ghadirian, Mahmud Sabzi and Hojat Amani, who have all drawn inspiration from the visual language and striking iconography of the period to comment on the contemporary world.

It’s a rich but digestible insight into a little known period of Iranian history and the even lesser known role of women who lived through it. A must-see for lovers of art or history in equal measure.
8 April 2015-30 January 2016. Check the website for latest times. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha,

Feminine beauty

Ideals of women’s beauty are constantly changing, and the debate surrounding them is a topic that is still relevant today.

One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is its tangible display of these changing ideals over the Qajar period, demonstrating the ongoing historical shifts in what is considered to be beautiful.

A selection of photographs will be on display that focus mainly on the women of the Qajar court, such as the mothers and daughters of the rulers, some of whom had immense power behind the scenes and huge influence on the trends of the time. The photographs are particularly interesting in providing context for the artwork on display, where the image of women was shaped almost entirely by male artists.

Earlier representations favour a slim waist and androgynous appearance, but the photographs of Qajar princesses show that the trends turned towards fuller figures and that it was considered fashionable to cultivate a monobrow and moustache.

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