Women who fly
Photos and text Valeria Gradizzi

Women Who Fly

Night falls early in the alleys of Sanandaj, in Iranian Kurdistan. The three women preceding me, black in their chadors, walk quickly and attentively. There is something confident, noble and ancient in their steps.

My heart beats to the rhythm of their paces. There is the scent of pomegranate and tea in the warm and silent air of the houses and a calm and mysterious restlessness alarms me. I am about to enter something forbidden and unknown in the mysticism of Iran. The house is modest. In the dim light of the room, on the walls I see images of Rumi and the Prophet of Allah, Muhammed, Habibi: these are the words linking the past to the present.

I let myself be enveloped by the serenity and complicity of the moment. I am among them and with them, finally, and I realise the distances, the centuries that separate and unite us. From the wonderful verses of Hafez, the most beloved poet, from Mani to Abu al Walid, Averroes for us, who saved Aristotle’s works from being burnt by Isabella the Catholic.

Then, in a low voice, everything begins and I feel estranged, lost and a bit frightened. Slowly I move closer to the sanctity of the moment. The camera weighs on me. I would like to be in the circle with them, but it is only for a moment and I realize that my dance will be the images. And perhaps there is something mystical in photographs? Isn’t there a close tie between photos and meditation?

Crouching I observe them. Now there is silence. They dress each other in white robes over a black cloak, an earthly symbol which they will shed when they softly start playing the drums and gently repeating the name of God: “Allah”… and the dance begins. Circulating first in a slow spiral, one hand raised towards the sky, the other towards the earth.

Something in my soul disquiets me. I’m not sure I want to get up and do what I came for, a form of modesty prevents me from photographing them, for fear of disturbing their devotion, their progress. Now I feel truly alien and bewildered yet, with difficulty, I start taking photographs.

Photos and text Valeria Gradizzi