Katayoun Javan, The Man with 1000 Faces

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2020 (artist site here, no book link available). Softcover, 12 pages, with 15 color and black and white photographs. Includes an essay by the artist. Design by Daryosh Karimi. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Katayoun Javan is an Iranian artist, now based in Melbourne, Australia. Her work explores the concepts of diasporic identity, memory, and home, often using found imagery and archival newspapers. Javan’s series The Man with 1000 Faces is a very personal project, looking at the 1979 Iranian Revolution through an intimate archive of family photographs and home videos. The project deals with Javan’s memories of her father, whom she never met; he was executed in April of 1979, during the revolution, just a month before Javan was born. The title of the project comes from the term the media used in reference to the artist’s father, calling him “the man with 1000 faces”.

The body of work was originally shown as an exhibition, and as an outcome of the city of Yarra’s Room To Create residency program, Javan has also released a zine documenting the project. The publication is rather small in size, creating an intimate held-in-hands experience. A black and white photo of soldiers standing in a firing squad line envelops the cover; Javan then placed a cropped photo of her father in a suit at the other end of the rifles, with three added red dots, creating the impression that he is being shot. Through Javan’s writing, placed at the very beginning, we learn that her father worked as the Shah’s official in Germany, and returned to his homeland just before the revolution. After the revolution, he was arrested and ultimately executed.

For most of her life, Javan wasn’t able to speak about her father, and her understanding of his narrative was significantly influenced by political propaganda. Now, some 40 years later, this project is her way to reclaim and share his story, reconstructing a different sense of its truths using family photographs, archival newspapers, and historical images. One of the first spreads is a collage of various photographs showing Javan’s father; there are formal images of him wearing a suit, and others with friends and family and as a tourist on a holiday, showing him as a regular man, and ultimately, reaffirming his presence. Some of the images repeat multiple times, while others are presented frame by frame, as Javan takes a close investigative look at the available evidence. One photo depicts some of his remaining belongings – a pair of black socks, a video camera. 

Erasure and removal are common visual themes throughout the zine. Clippings from newspapers with headlines talking about her father appear against a black background on one spread, overlapped with a photograph depicting two men having a conversation at a formal event; the figure of the man on the left (perhaps her father) is cut out and disappears into the black background. Another image shows a smiling woman posing for a photo, with the figure next to her cut out, and again we assume this was Javan’s father.

Javan digs deeper into her family in later spreads. One uses an ultrasound image (presumably of the artist herself) to physically connect a photo of the artist’s father and another of her mother, creating a bridge that ties them together. Closer to the end, an image of a happy family appears faded, and almost invisible, and it is paired with a historical photograph of protesters standing outside holding posters, with the image of Ruhollah Khomein, the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, blacked out. Bringing together these photographs, Javan points at how the revolution deeply and dramatically disrupted, and in essence, erased her own family.

Even though it is diminutive in size, The Man with 1000 Faces is a moving personal publication. Like many stories of families trying to understand themselves after enduring the traumas of destructive political regimes, it brings a human dimension to an abstract political situation, confronting uncomfortable memories that were once hidden. It is both an excavation and an attempt at healing, where filling in the blanks and speaking the truths helps to rebuild the way a family sees itself.

Collector’s POV: Katayoun Javan does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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