International Women’s Day 2019! (Zohreh Baseri, ITP 2007, Iran)

Written by Zohreh Baseri, ITP 2007 Fellow, Iran

International Women’s Day is a day of unity for women across the world and for their equal rights with men. This equality includes all areas: scientific, political, social and cultural. International Women’s Day was proclaimed by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova in 1977, and the reason for this was the widespread mass demonstration of women in Europe for the equality of women and men.

Zohreh at work

As women in the museum workplace – as in all workplaces – there are still challenges to overcome. Family support, organisational support, job satisfaction, job motivation, work flexibility, individual resources and quality of life are factors affecting the balance or imbalance between work and life for working women.

In the Iranian calendar, the 5th day of the month Esfand (during February – March) is the celebration Esfandgan, which is a celebration of women and the earth. And I feel a connection, as I prepare this blog post on the 5th day of March, just 3 days before International Women’s Day! In my beloved Iran, the birthday of Hazrat Fatima Zahra (daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and Khadijah) on 20th Jumada Al-Thani in the Islamic calendar is also celebrated as a women’s day: our Mother’s Day.

Clay figurines of the female form

Even before human beings began painting and drawing, they charted their thoughts by making figures with flowers, stones etc. The disparate tribes of the Iranian plateau from the millennia BC never adhered to mere imitation of nature. But they often recorded their memories or their imagination using their artistic hand on pottery and stone, making each item in accordance with their dreams and religious beliefs.

Left: Sasanian mosaic with female figure, excavated from Bishapur – fars
Right: Parthian coin with Queen Mousa, Susa Khozestan

From the earliest works of art made by human beings, there were artworks in the form of women. For the people of that time, the woman was a complex human being, and this complexity was reflected in the specimens that remain for us to see.

Left: Reconstruction of skeleton from Shahre-Sokhteh Sistan of woman with articifial eye
Right: Wedding dress inspired by ancient buildings by contemporary designer Sylvie Falcon

Psychological analysis of  early works of art such as ‘Venus’ figurines suggests that the artist did not create these works just for the creation of an art object, but that behind this art is a thought. Goddess figures and images were the first examples of representations of women’s qualities. These statues often symbolise fertility and birth, with religious and ritual aspects. A famous example from Iran is the Venus of Sarab from Kermanshah Province, belonging to the 7th millennium BC.

Left: Seleucid impression seal with pregnant woman, excavated at Susa-Khozestan
Right: Sassanid seal, mother and child

The ‘mother goddess’ exists across many ancient cultures, and is named Inana in Sumer, Ester in Babylon, and Astarta or Anat among the Canaanites. She is identified with the planet Venus, also known as Nahid or, in Iran, as Zohreh – my name!

Left: Seal with image of The Goddess of Plants, excavated from Shahda-Kerman
Right: Impression seal showing women working, excavated at Choga Mish Khozestan

Images show objects of ancient art in the collections of the National Museum of Iran, Niavaran Palace and Golestan Palace