Representing spiritual and gendered space

Challenges in the audio-visual recording of Iranian Shi'a women’s rituals

  • Ingvild Flaskerud
Keywords: Iran, Shiraz, Muharram rituals, ethnographic film, Shi'ism, ritual studies, skilled vision, collaborative field research, representing emotions, material culture


Drawing on the experience of producing and screening the ethnographic film Standard-bearers of Hussein. Women commemorating Karbala, produced in 2003, the author/filmmaker addresses how to explore visually and represent subtle religious expressions and experiences embedded in objects and actions, and how to conduct audio-visual representation of women while managing local gendered aesthetics and ethics of representation. The author reflects on how to develop a skilled vision and put it into practice as a form of visual representation by creating ‘a point view’. Arguing that the editing process is embedded in the recording process, the concept of ‘reciprocal others' is introduced in order to
discuss how the film-maker and interlocutors negotiate ways to proceed in the recording process. Visual media’s ability to express and convey emotions is also discussed. Viewers’ responses suggest that insight into religious sentiments and sensations can be advanced in two ways: through systematic questioning of and reflections on ethnographic information and through empathic involvements. Moreover, reciprocity is not limited to the production of the film. As the film has been transmitted back to its site of recording, it has motivated insiders to reflect on their ritual practices, belief and social environment.