Chère Liberté, éloge au Pardon, the intimate and political work of Tara Mour

For her diploma project at the ECAL (Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne), Tara Mour produced a series of photographs taken when she temporarily returned to her family home during the first lockdown in March 2020. As she had no access to her studio, her childhood bedroom momentarily served as a backdrop for the work Chère Liberté, éloge au Pardon (Dear Freedom, Praise to Forgiveness). The images, consisting mainly of self-portraits and close-ups of different parts of the artist’s body, are accompanied by poetic narratives recounting formative moments in her life. 

The sum of these experiences and photographs are gathered together in the book Chère Liberté, éloge au Pardon, which has been awarded the Pierre Keller prize, rewarding  particularly committed works of art. Throughout the pages, the reader bears witness to Tara Mour’s study of her own body, her identity and her family. Her work is an intimate, poetic, raw and honest testimony to the way in which she navigates through the crossroads of two cultures and how this shapes her experience as a woman in Switzerland. In this interview, Tara Mour reveals the genesis of this project, her approach to photography, her relationship to her body and to injunctions, her interpretation of beauty, and her desire to offer an escape for those who do not always feel in tune with the world… 

What were the issues, experiences or statements that served as a starting point for your project?

Chère Liberté, éloge au Pardon comes from a long introspective reflection on my family archives. It is about my own experience within this nucleus called “family”. I initially wanted to create a family album and create new settings with all the members of my family, in order to bring us together for the time of a picture. The lockdown shook up my plans in a more particular, extremely sensitive circumstance. Even though I had returned to live with my family, I was basically very lonely as everyone kept going to their workplace. This project was born out of this confrontation, given that I was forced to live five days a week alone in front of myself and my reflection. I filled the silence with audio readings and podcasts. I directed my thoughts into spaces of political views that I wanted to deconstruct and then I wrote, reread and schematized my images and my words. I felt stuck in my references on feminine photographs. It was impossible for me to relate to smooth skins, to those ideals of beauty that are far removed from the identity issues I wanted to resolve.

Through the themes addressed and the use of your body as the main subject, Chère Liberté, éloge au Pardon has a strong autobiographical dimension. At the same time, you photograph yourself sometimes with a belly made of a half sphere of polyester, mimicking a pregnancy, sometimes with heavy make-up, redrawing your lips, and you also create a virtual love scene with the help of CGI. In these images, we can sense the presence of a kind of alter ego. What is your relationship with these two versions of yourself? What do you think you convey through this ambivalence? 

During my photography studies, I realized how difficult it was for me to look at myself in pictures. I read writings such as Susan Sontag’s On Photography, which describes the photographic act as a gesture of aggression and the camera as a phallic digital extension. From there arose the following question : “why do some people manage to represent themselves and what does it mean/require ?”. I understood that with the available tools I had, I would have to distance myself totally from the photographer I was and the subject. I wasn’t looking at myself through a personal eye judging what I saw on a smooth shimmering surface but simply as an object. A shape, a bust, a column, limbs that could be twisted, modelled, disguised. I proceeded through layers just like in my sequence. I add to the neutral body, often naked, a spherical object that reminds me of the status of the mother as a projected desire, an idea imposed on my body. CGI images are windows to an elsewhere, an impossible fantasy. The make-up is like a mask, echoing my very first costume that can be seen at the beginning of the sequence (the image of the little three-eyed monster is me). I think I convey various things to different people, a mixture of wounds and courage. The book is intended for everyone, without limits of gender or socio-political background. I hope that it offers a new breath of fresh air to readers who may have felt lost, alone, crazy, out of tune countless times. 

In Chère Liberté, éloge au Pardon, there is also an ambivalence towards the gaze. We can see close-up images of your legs, your buttocks, your stomach, your crotch, your foot… which subjects you to the viewer’s gaze. At the same time, there are a number of auto-portraits in which you stare into the eyes of the viewer, which positions you as being present and in full possession of your image. Is the gaze a notion you think about when you compose your photographs? Does it play an important part in your work?

The term “female gaze” came up several times indeed. If we consider the definition of the term, then yes, it is a notion that I thought of without necessarily formulating it as such. I think that my images are a re-observation of femininity through a purely masculine prism and therefore I try to bring a new perspective on the notion of the beauty of women body’s as it is generally understood. As for the choice of perspective or the exposed body parts, I have been mainly inspired by 20th century paintings and I have tried to keep in mind iconic references such as the orientalist painters and their hairless Sherazades in order to incorporate my own observations. 

Are your works a materialization of the well-known slogan “The Personal is Political” ?

I have read a lot from Paul B. Preciado during the project and I think the personal-political dimension comes to me primarily from these writings. I have been very much influenced by the notion of the uterus-nation, the body that has become politicized, medicated, on the margins. The female body is both personal and political. It harbors a multitude of sensitive and ethical, mysterious and rationalized inquiries. I have used mine to illustrate only one branch of the feminist tree: that of a woman who is born into a sensitive and political union that is impossible. I am a woman who technically and politically speaking was probably never meant to be born, because of the religious difference between my two parents. I used the body, the matter, as a support for my words. My body doesn’t represent the same features as some of my friends, my skin doesn’t have exactly the same color as a European woman but is not dark enough to be considered as a foreigner’s one. I am tanned, exotic. I come from a bit of here and a bit of there. Never really integrated here or there. I built myself through this prism, both political and personal, which I have tried to deconstruct today. 

In your project, you include poems and texts in which you describe stories, events and places that seem to be significant experiences: the story of your mother in Iran; your vacations with friends in Valais; your birth in Eaux-Vives; the street harassment you experience when you come home from an evening out; your double Swiss and Iranian culture… Did these experiences contribute to shaping your identity? 

I chose to include text because that’s where I drew my first sketches. This was one of the first steps of the work. It serves as a support for reading the book but is not essential to its comprehension. It illustrates the starting point of this identity, which tries to be created over the pages. The mother, the father, the roots, all of these constitute the persona that I create for myself.

Your project finally developed into a photography book. Does this bring an additional meaning to the content of your work?

It’s a work that could have been presented as an exhibition display, but I really wanted to remain faithful to my first intentions: the family album. The final format is a tribute to the traditional diary. 

Do you believe that forgiveness is the necessary act to overcome the expectations of others, which allows the freedom to create oneself?

I think that forgiveness is a very fundamental act when you want a clean slate. To forgive is to accept looking back at the past, observing it again and transforming it to bring out other strengths. I don’t think it should be associated with others and their expectations. Forgiveness is an inner peace more than something related to others. Above all, it is deciding to no longer dwell on something that is tormenting us and learning how to turn this wound into something that inspires us in a lasting way. 

Follow Tara Mour for exhibition news and regular updates on her progress as an artist @tara.mour