From the Mediterranean Sea to Malaysian cityscapes, Mohammad Amin Kamranimashhadi’s photographs evoke a sense of wistfulness now more than ever. The scenes of Kuala Lumpur’s back lanes, the sea at Antalya, Turkey, and the sky of Cherating Beach, Pahang, among others, capture a sense of isolation within nature and man-made environments.
It's a perspective that is as spiritual as it is physical, perhaps offering a glimpse of what it means to be displaced, or to be on an endless journey of transition. The images, collectively part of a project called 20/20 also speaks of the vulnerable situation the refugee communities here in Malaysia finds themselves in, something Amin is all too familiar with.
Which is why he decided to support the communities through this fund-raising initiative, while also sustaining his own livelihood. Options speaks to the artist:
Tell us a bit about yourself:
My name is Amin Kamrani. I'm an Iranian immigrant living in Malaysia since 2011. It was end of 2012 when I first started working with refugees in a non-governmental organisation called Malaysian Social Research Institute (MSRI). Since then, I've been collaborating with several NGOs and rights groups in Malaysia.
Aside from being a social worker, I'm also a freelance photographer and filmmaker. I'm a member of Parastoo Theater Team – a refugee performing arts group – assisting in their productions and media activities.
Can you share more about your photography work?
Last year during The Refugee Fest in George Town and Kuala Lumpur, I presented portraits of individuals from the refugee communities who didn’t look like how the media often show them. In this project, which I named “frames of being”, I told some stories about each of them. There was a poet, a model, a football coach, a teacher, a theatre director, etc. Later, for Our Better World’s Refugee Series, I made one of three films of the series about one of those individuals. The series then went to a New York-based festival and became one of the six finalists of the 4th Annual Shorty Social Good Awards: Best in Immigration & Refugees.
The stories of my photography work are more abstract compared to my films, which are mostly documentaries. This makes my photography audiences wider. People of different backgrounds, from different places have responded to my 20/20 collection, with their own interpretations. It has been a notable experience for me.
On that note, how did the project come to be?
This limited-edition photo print project began in the early days of the Movement Control Order (MCO). As we all had no choice but to stay within the walls of our homes, I looked through my photographs taken outside. While this crisis has affected our perspective of many things in the world, I felt these frames can now be interpreted differently. It was then that I thought, it was time to set up a way for others to see these frames and have them within the walls of their homes.
I titled it 20/20 as it is the sale of limited 20 copies of 20 photographs in the year 2020. What connects all of these frames, is nothing but my eyes. There's a sense of improvisation (my favourite form of art) in all of them. All of these photos were taken when I suddenly noticed something on my paths, and I happened to have my camera with me and I captured the moment that I witnessed. These frames invite the viewers to stand at my point of view and look at those scenes.
Seven of the photos were taken in Malaysia – three in KL, one in George Town, one on the road to Genting Highlands, and another at Cherating Beach. Nine of the photos are taken in Iran and the other four featuring the Mediterranean Sea are taken in Antalya, Turkey.
It's also a fund-raising initiative?
Within the early stage of developing this idea, I committed myself to share 25% of the proceeds with some of the most vulnerable communities in Malaysia affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Because of my connection with the communities, I learned about their situation during this plague and I am certain they are one of those communities most in need. By doing this, I also wanted to encourage other citizens of the world who have been privileged enough to have some income, to also share a portion of what they earn with those who lost their jobs because of the crisis.
How has the response been?
Over RM3, 000 has been raised so far and distributed to at least 15 families. I never imagined I would receive such positive responses from people. I feel blessed. Amongst the buyers of the print is Jo Kukathas, who I consider a Malaysian treasure for art and culture. Pauline Fan who co-directed the 2019 George Town Literary Festival and is herself a poet, writer and translator, described the photos “so poetic!” and bought one of the frames. I regard all of the responses valuable and important for my work and the path that I am taking.
I like to say that this too is the magic of art. Art is certainly more than just part of tourism. A few days after I started the project, I saw another artist friend, who happens to be a refugee himself, started a different project to raise funds for underprivileged families. He has since met his target for fund-raising.
Photo print from the 20/20 series costs RM450 each (unframed); RM500 for simple frame. Contact Amin at [email protected] to view the photos or Whatsapp: 011 1193 3954.