Solmaz Daryani | A Sacred, Sullied Space

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Country of origin: Iran
Project location: Iran
Program: Photography in Collaboration
Collaborator: Sasha con Olderhausen
Year: 2016

The Mandaeans, a minority religious community that for centuries was concentrated on the border between Iran and Iraq, in recent decades has been forced to diffuse due to social pressures and political discord. In Iran, their numbers are estimated to be somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000, though no census count exists. Not officially recognized by Iran’s constitution, they lack opportunities that the Shia Muslim majority is afforded. But beyond the institutional biases they face are the more pervasive social ones, which they feel from the broader regional community. Among these is the stigma of being najis, the Muslim concept of ritual uncleanliness.

The Karun River is their sacred site; the place where, for centuries, they have performed baptisms following rites of passage—birth; marriage; illness; travel; sin. According to their doctrine, living water is their closest connection to the world of light. But the water that runs through the Karun is also heavily polluted.

Here, at the confluence of the Karun, the Mandaeans are forced to confront an irony implicit to the environment they inhabit: Debased by stigmas of uncleanliness, they are simultaneously left with no other choice but to jeopardize their health and wellbeing by engaging intimately with the polluted water that runs through the Karun.