Greif x FUTURES interview with talent Tina Farifteh

Tina Farifteh, video still from "The Flood", 2021 - ongoing.

Our community manager interviewed Tina Farifteh, one of the talents Der Greif nominated to join FUTURES in 2022. They spoke about Farifteh's practice and her upcoming plans for 2023. Tina Farifteh (1982, Tehran/Iran) is an Iranian-Dutch photographer and filmmaker based in the Netherlands. She has an interest in how we organise the world, and how we perceive the world—within man-made power structures, such as companies, governments and nation-states, and through the production and consumption of images. Her work explores how these structures and images influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Learn More

Tina Farifteh, from "Iran Protests", 2022 - ongoing.

Der Greif: Hi, Tina! Firstly, congratulations on being selected by Der Greif as a FUTURES talent. Can you tell us what this nomination means for you as an artist?

Tina: After graduation from the art academy, there is no structured learning, regular updates from the photography field or real community. Especially on a European scale. I have good contact with the majority of my classmates and other alumni from my academy, and follow platforms and individual makers on social media but that is all very scattered. There is no structured way of matching people with knowledge and other resources on a larger scale. So I think that is the most important part. Meeting other makers, curators, and institutions to exchange knowledge and experiences. Zooming out to see what your colleagues are doing in different places in Europe and how they approach it. This was especially super nice and valuable during the FUTURES trip to Turin last year. It was a great way of starting new friendships and collaborations while forming stronger ties with people you already know. It is also nice to have access to the online lectures that FUTURES provides. It is inspiring and makes it easier to reach out to colleagues with specific questions after a lecture. And access to your platform is of course nice as well. Thanks for the nomination and for the opportunity to share my thoughts and work with your community.

Der Greif: Could you introduce our community to your work?

Tina: I’m interested in man-made systems and power structures because that is how we organise the world. I’m also interested in images because that is how we see, perceive, and document the world. Both systems and images have a huge influence on how we think, feel, and behave. In my work I analyse and question systems and images but at the same time I use them to tell a different story or make us look at the dominant narrative in a new way. I always start with a question. An error in my head. When I see or feel something that fascinates or frustrates me. And when I feel the urgency to figure it out. From there I try to understand what is happening, why, and why it touches me. The research process is a big part of my work. So my work is about big themes and complex topics but there is always a very personal link to why it touches me and why I work on them. In a way, I continuously try to find my own position in the world. How I relate to the world around me, myself, and the ‘other’. How can I deal with the suffering (and the images of the suffering) that we are surrounded by? Do I have to look? Can I look away? Can I do something to change it? Or can I add to the conversation about it? Empathy is a recurring theme. Because it connects the self, the ‘other’, and the gaze.

Exhibition opening of "Qoqnoos ققنوس - You can’t burn women made of fire” at the Melkweg Expo. Image by Francoise Bolechowski.

Der Greif: Do you believe in the ability of photography to generate empathy and political change? Is this one of your aims, why or why not?

Tina: Yes and no. That is exactly what my work is about and why empathy is a recurring theme in my work. On one hand, I want to change the world. To debunk images and words that dehumanise, to show the other side, to make us more empathetic towards one another. To make it fairer and to end suffering and injustice. I really believe that that is possible. On the other hand, I realise the suffering and the injustice is too big. And that my ability as a maker is small. Of course, I can’t save the world. Even when I collaborate with others, we are still small radars in a huge system where giant interests play a role and powerful parties decide what happens. But what is the alternative? Look away and do nothing? I try to see what I can do to ‘push’ toward the direction that I believe in. That is what we all can do. Some can push harder and longer than others. But we need everyone. Only together, we can move towards a ‘better’ world. Or at least resist/slow down the forces that push it in the opposite direction. And in the meanwhile, I try to keep on reflecting and (re)defining my own position as a maker and human. And try to stay sane… Does what I do really help? Or does it make the situation worse? Do I want to make work about a topic to feel better (or less bad) or do I really add something to the conversation? Will more empathy really solve all our problems? Or is it the cause of many of our problems?

Der Greif: Can you give us some examples of this 'pushing' the world from your work?

Tina: Some examples of how I try to do this in my work/approach: For my audiovisual installation, The Flood, I researched how empathy works and how dehumanisation reduces our empathy. In my new short film, Kitten or Refugee?, I research why it sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t and how images trigger (non)empathic behaviour. The Flood is an audiovisual installation (2021 - ongoing) about the situation of refugees on the move or stuck at European borders, as well as the political language used to dehumanise and normalise the absurdity of how we currently treat them. We are inundated with headlines on how refugees are streaming into Europe, flooding the continent, bursting through national borders, threatening to submerge our culture, and destroy everything we hold dear. This rhetoric is gradually being adopted by mainstream politicians and media. In this project, I aim to dissect the water metaphor, to understand and visualise the dominant discourse on migration and question the framing of refugees as a natural disaster. Kitten or Refugee? is a short documentary that is currently in development and will be released in 2023. In this project, I wonder why we pick up one refugee with our own car and let the other freeze to death at the border with Europe? Since the start of the war in Ukraine, it has become clear – more painful and visible than ever – that the lives of white people with blonde hair and blue eyes are worth more than those of people of colour with black hair and brown eyes. Which mechanisms lie behind this? Who do we put at the top of the empathy ladder when it comes to making life-or-death decisions? Are empathy and xenophobia the total opposites or the other side of the same coin? Kitten or Refugee? is an investigative documentary about these two extreme sides of us as human beings.

Der Greif: Your practice carefully combines your personal experience with broader cultural narratives.

Tina: Yes, that is true. Growing up in Iran, I was surrounded by a religious system that dictated the rules of the game. Coming to the Netherlands, I was confronted with a capitalist system that defines how life is organised. It is crazy to see that the main purpose of life (according to the leaders of the society) can be changed after a short flight… Experiencing this system change at a young age made me aware that there is no absolute truth and that constructions of power are man-made fictions. And images and words are often used to communicate the main narrative. In Iran, you find religious billboards and murals of martyrs everywhere in the streets. In The Netherlands, public space is filled with advertisements. Sometimes the systems serve us and make our lives better, but a lot of times they don’t. They reduce our freedom and make the lives of people who fall out of the system a living hell. Many people are sacrificed to make the system work and to keep the power where it is. This is indeed very personal and at the same time very universal. But this is how I see and experience the world, I see and feel the connections and the impact of larger systems on my own life and on the life of others.

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Tina Farifteh, from "Kitten or Refugee?", 2023 - ongoing.

Der Greif: What does the process of engaging others, whether participants or audience members, look like for you from beginning to end?

Tina: I often collaborate with others. It’s super enriching to work with amazing and talented people. I believe that it makes the work better and increases your own learning process. I work together with scientists, journalists, other experts and other makers. In Kitten or Refugee? the participants play an important role, in the final result. You see interviews with experts (a primatologist, philosopher, media expert and an activist), with people who try to do something good for the ‘other’, and I do experiments with test subjects. This is the first time I work in this way and the film is a visualisation of my research and my own journey. The audience members don’t play a role in my process until I know what the story is really about and why I want to tell it. When I know that, I think about how I can tell it, what is the best way, and what the impact should be, and then decide how to tell it. For, The Flood, I wanted the audience to see the link between the framing of refugees as natural disasters (by using water metaphors in the language) and the way they are treated at European borders. I wanted to show that rhetoric, the way we talk about people, and how we treat them are connected. That the words of our politicians are not neutral and are the cause of death of many people. At the same time, I wanted to bypass the political discussion about refugees and make us ‘feel’ something again. To get a physical experience, with a topic that doesn’t touch us anymore. That is why I chose to show it as an immersive installation. For, Kitten or Refugee?, I chose a short documentary format because it is about my search and research. To understand how empathy works. This topic concerns all of us. It’s about how we humans work. Therefore I think it’s important that as many people as possible can see it, and can join me on this journey. But also, because I can use all the elements that the media uses to trigger empathy or to break it off in the film. So, it is about ‘empathy’ but also about how we are manipulated by images. Therefore I think displaying the work on a mass medium is most suitable. For this project, I work with Prospektor as a producer and Dutch TV channel VPRO as a co-producer and broadcaster. This sounds like it’s very deliberate and decided in advance, but that is not the case. All these elements are part of the process and the extensive research I do. When I get to the core of the story, the form manifests itself. For, Tina in Sexbierum, a project that is in the development phase about how I fled from Amsterdam and moved to Sexbierum, the form is not crystallized yet… For context, Sexbierum is a small village in Friesland. Everyone asks me why I left. I’m still looking for an answer. Tina in Sexbierum, is a multimedia project about displacement, detachment, assimilation, loss and the desire to have a home. And sometimes the form comes to you. A while ago, The Melkweg Expo asked me to curate an exhibition about women in Iran. I’m a maker and not a curator, but I immediately said yes, because I wanted to tell this story. And selecting and connecting the work of other makers is also a way to tell a story. It allows you to tell a complex layered story from different perspectives. The exhibition is called, Qoqnoos ققنوس - You can’t burn women made of fire, and is about the power of art & resistance by the women of Iran. It is on show until the 14th of May. So If you are in or going to Amsterdam, go and see it! QOQNOOS ققنوس

Der Greif: Can you talk about your relationship with choosing a medium aside from photography for your work?

Tina: I work in different media but ultimately I’m a very visual person. I think in images. I see images. I see patterns, connect images and associate things with images. I almost talk in images. I am inspired by many different types of disciplines. Theatre, dance, music, and poetry. Photography is for me a way of ‘looking’ and ‘sketching’. A way that gives form to my thoughts, making mental notes, and a way to make connections. It's an important element in the process of everything I do, but only one of the many options in the final result. I’m more interested in the ‘image’, the ‘narrative’, and the ‘experience’. And ‘the cognitive, emotional, and behavioural response’ that is created by it. Sometimes photography is the end result (the medium I choose to convey the story) but in many cases, I choose a different medium, depending on what the story is about and what I find the best form to tell it.

Der Greif: Do you have any advice for people just starting on their photographic journeys?

Tina: I've just started! How can I advise others… Making work is so personal and on the person. It is difficult to tell other people what to do. I’m not a typical photographer, so I can't really give ‘photography’ advice. I know that I’m obsessed with what I do. When I do research, it is because I really want to know something. I make work because I feel the urgency. I want to tell a story. So for me, it feels like there is no other way to do it. But of course, this is different for everyone. So, my only advice would be, to find what you are obsessed about and think/feel you want to spend your time and energy on, and go for it. Find your own way of doing it.

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Tina Farifteh, found and edited social media footage, from "Iran Protests", 2022 - ongoing.

Der Greif: Can you tell us where your work is headed? What’s next for you in 2023? Thanks for talking with us!

Tina: I have a lot of new stuff in the works. They are different but also similar. All the works are around the same main themes. My distance, point of view and involvement is different. You can find out about all my ongoing projects on my website: