The special exhibition in the book art gallery and the Mshatta Hall at the Pergamonmuseum includes four photo series and a mirror installation. It is a critical examination of the past that reflects on political and societal developments and situates them in the present.

These photographic works employ different means to evoke identity-forming functions of the past, while also inviting viewers to question the historical conditioning of their own familial, social, cultural and national identities. The exhibition shows selected works in dialogue with historical objects from the collection at the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum for Islamic Art).

Taking up varying perspectives, four established, Iranian-born photo artists use their works to address the historical conditionality of Iranian Modernism. Their imagery treats the past as a foil for comparison, in order to question it on several levels through metaphors and allegories and draw on it to make statements about the present. These artists employ different visual strategies while making reference to diverse pasts. The timeframe extends from Iran’s beginnings with photography in 1842 up to the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88).

Shadi Ghadirian’s work Qajar (1998) restages studio portraits from the period of the Qajar dynasty (1779–1925) while adding a contemporary element to them. By combining traces of the past with the present, she points out traditions that have affected life today. In her series Nil Nil (2008) she staged seemingly idyllic interior spaces that nonetheless contain concealed objects of war. Although the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988, Ghadirian tells us of the traumas that continue to have an effect on the psyches of everyone who experienced the war.

In Gravestones (1999–2000) and Doorbells (2004), Arman Stepanian sets group and individual portraits from the Qajar and Pahlavi (1925–1979) dynasties into contemporary scenery. These works could be interpreted as a reminder that the conditions of our present situation were shaped by our forefathers.

In Irandokht (2006) and The Registration Congregation of Iranian Men (2006–12), Najaf Shokri scanned passport photographs used for Iranian identification documents during the Pahlavi dynasty. The appropriation of photographic objets trouvés, or found objects, represents a reflection of individual and collective identity, whose origins lie in the past.

In Hall of Reflections (2000–12) Taraneh Hemami transformed the photographs and letters of Iraninan émigrés to the USA into mirror assemblages. These reveal the pain of not belonging brought about by emigration as well as the loss felt over a missing a place that is now a thing of the past.