“What I would give to: Sit in front of you and drink coffee. Squeeze your hand with the grip force of empathy. Link your arm with mine and guide you down a street, through a park, across a bridge… To the mouth of an ocean.”
The words of Carmen Daneshmandi throb with an all-too-familiar longing in her latest mixed-media project, The 2021 Calendar Zine. The Spanish-Iranian artist and poet was a winner of Female in Focus 2020, and in the same year, earned a place on the Authority Collective’s Lit List (an annual selection of the industry’s hotly-tipped photographers of colour, as nominated by experts) next to fellow rising stars Kennedi Carter and Nydia Blas. Chiefly, Daneshmandi employs collage to explore notions of identity, heritage, home and nostalgia: merging both new and archival imagery with scans of everything from sardines to candle wax; traversing past and future, reality and fantasy, familiar and strange.
With a Catholic mother from Seville, Spain, and a Muslim father from Shiraz, Iran, collage is, in many ways, ingrained in the fabric of Daneshmandi’s life. Having moved from Seattle to New York to Zaragoza to Barcelona, her image-making is a symphony of senses, signifiers and fragmented experiences: a collision of “cultural and sensual references that, growing up in white suburbia, I was embarrassed by, but now I look back on it and they excite me,” she says. “Like how loud my mom could be. Or what our family home looked like. Decorations. Food. Colours. Textures.”
Daneshmandi’s 2021 Calendar Zine – conceived to decolonise the standard calendar and refocus its dates of importance to underrepresented communities – fuses together photography, collage and original writing (in both English and non-gendered Spanish) in the format of a dynamic spiral-bound publication. Following a year of yearning, obstruction and pain, the zine is, first and foremost, a vehicle for aspiration, manifestation and collective healing: “Something we can look at, or look to, to take us out of our current reality. Not in an irresponsible way, but an optimistic way.”
Certainly, in a moment when even the immediate future seems so rigidly uncertain, the intrinsic malleability of collage, coupled with the blank canvas of an empty calendar, becomes a powerful means for Daneshmandi to envision better days. A temporal anchoring that transcends the “white man’s standard”, drawing attention away from holidays such as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving – both inseparable from America’s violent colonial history – and instead placing emphasis on the likes of Juneteenth (commemorating the end of slavery in the US), Persian New Year, Indigenous Peoples Day, Transgender Awareness Week and Latinx Heritage Month. Or so reads the zine’s introduction: “Cultural traditions and celebrations that have kept our communities’ heads above water generation after generation, penciled in and ink-tailored on the calendars we buy.”
“There’s just so much ‘history’ that, for so long, has not served us,” Daneshmandi says. “Because it’s history that’s been wrongly written. It’s been written to benefit certain people at the expense of others. There is power in reclaiming what gets to be viewed as an important date or an important holiday, and removing the ones that only serve white supremacy, or that erase people.”
“There’s just so much history that, for so long, has not served us. Because it’s history that’s been wrongly written. It’s been written to benefit certain people at the expense of others”
Each month’s significance is richly underscored by Daneshmandi’s imagery. Mental Health Awareness Month sees shards of shattered glass laid over a glistening jewelled bracelet; broken and beautiful all at once. Pride Month depicts a commanding trans woman standing amid a rainbow of spray-painted colours; an ode to those LGBTQ+ identities who are often less represented in the parades. Daneshmandi’s process is grounded in image-banking and experimentation, working with whatever tools are available to her in the moment: “film cameras, DSLRs, iPhone photos, disposable cameras, old family photos, scans of materials, tupperwares full of things I think would be cool laid over a photograph,” she says. “What drives me is the sense of the unknown. The sense of possibility.”
Accordingly, clashes of colours, textures and forms dance across the calendar’s pages, interspersed with poetry driving dialogue with its readers at different points in the year: “Who leads your country now? / Have the police been abolished yet? / How do you feel about your body? How do the laws feel about your body?” Even the form of the project is, itself, a kind of collage, taking inspiration from that of a school notebook – “something sold to us purely for practical purposes” – and yet steeped in spirituality.
“I wanted the spiritual to fit into the practical,” says Daneshmandi. “That’s how it should be. The things that matter to us and make us feel good and bring us back and remind us of our strength — all of those things should be able to fit into our day-to-day. Despite the efforts of the many systems in our lives that try to separate them.”
Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.