Hannah Darabi

1981, Iran
Nominee - Prix Elysée 2025

Hannah Darabi (IR, 1981) is an artist-photographer born in 1981 in Tehran. She studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tehran, then at the University of Paris VIII-Saint-Denis. Today based in Paris, her country of origin remains the main subject of most of her photographic series. In order to reveal the complex political situation of this country, she creates series in which her photographs interact with other materials, such as texts, archival images or objects.

The artist’s book occupies a privileged place among the other forms of representation she explores. Her books, as well as her art works are in public and private collections, and her work Enghelab Street, a Revolution through Books, Iran 1979-1983, published in 2019 by Spector Books and Le Bal, has received numerous awards. Soleil of Persian Square, her research-creation project involving the Iranian diaspora of Southern California and its popular music, was published by GwinZegal Art Center in 2021.

Hannah Darabi was awarded the Bernd and Hilla Becher sponsorship prize by the city of Düsseldorf for her entire artistic output in 2022, and the Madame Figaro award for her recent exhibition at the Rencontres d’Arles festival in 2023.


Why Don’t You Dance?

Why Don’t You Dance? is an artistic research project inspired by three key figures from Iran’s popular dance scene. It explores dance as a cultural element whose significance can change depending on the social and political context in which it takes place.

The first of these figures is Mahvash, one of Iran's leading cabaret singers and dancers of the 1950s. She wrote a fictional autobiography entitled The Secrets of Sexual Accomplishment. Then there’s Jamileh, a cabaret dancer who owes her reputation to practising two forms of dance; first belly dancing and second, the “Jaheli dance”, specific to Iran’s social context on which Hannah Darabi focuses. And last, there’s Mohammad Khordadjan, the famous dancer and choreographer from the Los Angeles’ Iranian pop scene. Dancing became his main profession in the United States when he left Iran after the 1979 revolution.

Why Don’t You Dance? is made up of a series of photographs set out in relation to these figures from the history of popular dance along with archives connected to its history. Mahvash’s autobiography forms the basis for this project. It’s a cultural element in which we can detect the moment of Iranian society's transition from its traditional position regarding gender to a hetero-normative modernist discourse adapted to our times.

Initially focusing on the use of dance in current protest movements in Iran, Darabi works in parallel with Iranian dancers and choreographers based in Geneva and Paris to offer a deeper analysis of the liberating capacity of popular dance. This aspect is crucial for forging a connection between current dance practice and the history of the medium. To do this, the artist hopes to organise dance workshops where different generations of Iranian immigrants can be invited to express themselves through dance. The workshops will be documented in pictures, sound and text. The setting will also play a significant role in the workshops’ space. For this, Darabi draws her inspiration from the Karaoke evenings at the Cabaret Tehran in Los Angeles. During these evenings, Iranians from the diaspora perform music and dance from their homeland in front of projected images expressing their political ideals through nostalgic feelings about the “glorious past”.