In ancient Persian literature, the adjective ماه طلعت (moon-faced) was used to describe the beauty of an individual, regardless of their gender identity. Today, the word refers to the beauty of women only.
A similar shift in gender representation occurred in Persian visual culture—as evidenced in portrait paintings of Iran’s Qajar dynasty (1786–1925)—when Western modernization, European realistic painting, and camera technology were introduced. These elements overshadowed and ended the queer representation of genders that historically characterized these paintings, largely known for their fluid depiction of gender.
In her video work, ماه طلعت Moon-faced, artist Morehshin Allahyari collaborated with an artificial intelligence program to repair such cultural and artistic changes that brought an end to the queer representation in Iranian portraiture. Using a carefully researched set of keywords and digital images of Qajar dynasty portrait paintings, a series of videos was generated featuring new genderless portraits. In doing so, the machine program and Allahyari intervene within the history of Westernization to undo conditions that ended nonbinary gender representation in Persian visual culture.
A musical score by Iranian designer and musician Mani Nilchiani, whom Allahyari commissioned, accompanies this video work. His work combines Iranian classical music with glitch-like interludes to establish an immersive and contemplative viewing experience.
Image: Morehshin Allahyari, ماه طلعت Moon-faced, 2021–present; video, color, and sound; 2 minutes 5 seconds. Courtesy of the artist.