Ramesch Daha. Unlimited History

20 Jan 2018 – 10 Mar 2018

Nagel Draxler Kabinett

Berlin, Germany


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​Hand-written notes, comments, old postage stamps, banknotes, envelopes, maps, old yellowed photographs, drawings, documents, notes, newspaper cuttings: all of these can be found in the Research Diary, which is at the core of the wide-ranging project Unlimited Historyby Ramesch Daha.


The drawings and photographs show people, soldiers, meetings, landscapes, deep canyons, steel bridges and railway tracks. One of the maps is headed “Grain Production and Transportation”, one of the photos shows a group of marching soldiers and carries the title “Occupation of Persia”, on a drawn map, this is named: “The invasion of Iran”. A newspaper clipping contains a photo of a myriad of tents lined up and carries the explanatory title “This is the Tented Staying Area as it was in Jan. 1943”. One photo, carefully separated from its background presents three seated statesmen: the soviet leader Joseph Stalin, US-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Photo after photo, drawing after drawing, text after text fragment, coordinate by coordinate, stone by stone—the individual parts all add up to make a story out of history. As earlier works by Ramesch Daha suggest, this story is not arbitrary but part of her own and her family’s history. Born in Teheran in 1971, in 1978 in the run-up of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 she had to leave her home city with her family finding refuge in her mother’s home city—Vienna. How personal life can be interwoven with history is shown by her video of 2009, where her Iranian grandmother Monirjoon exemplifies the historical changes with the history of the names of the street, where she grew up: until 1934 the street was called “Amjadeyeh”, then it was changed to “17th Dey 1314”, which stands for the 6th of January 1934 in the Persian calendar. On that day the celebrations of the graduation at Monirjoon’s school were taking place, when—quite unexpectedly for the pupils—Reza Shah and his wife and daughters appeared, the latter ostentatiously without a veil for the first time in public. Also the graduates and school staff had been asked to appear to the celebrations without chador. The prohibition of the chador had been adopted by Reza Shah only a few days before. In his speech, the Shah praised the women, underlining their new freedom. During the Pahlavi dynasty, the 17th Dey was celebrated as a “day of liberation of women”.
Another historical event, reported by the artist’s grandmother, took place in 1943. At that time the American Embassy was also situated in Monirjoon’s street, and one day she found herself literally locked in and surrounded by tanks. A few days later she learnt that parts of the Teheran Conference had taken place in “her” street from the 28th of November till the 1st of December with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin taking part. After that the street was renamed “Roosevelt Street”. Understandably, the memory of the American President could not survive the “Islamic Revolution” and the road, in 1979, was renamed again. Now it is called “Dr. Mofateh” Street.
Based on the memories of her grandmother, Daha begins her own research work in Unlimited History. At first they involve the relationships between Iran and the participants of the Teheran Conference, the three main allies of the anti-Hitler coalition in World War II—Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union. Her extensive research on the Internet as well as in public and private archives then concentrate on the history of the construction of the Trans-Iranian Railway. The establishment of a rail network, intended to connect the capital city of Teheran with the Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south, was planned and completed under Reza Shah from 1927 to 1941. On the one hand the age of industrialization thus began for Iran, on the other hand Daha’s researches – especially in the archives of the Foreign Office in Berlin – have shown, how the construction of the railway affected the relationship between Nazi Germany and Iran. Engineers sent from Germany participated, in particular, in building the northern track, because the railway perfectly fitted into the plans to attack the Soviet Union. Then, in 1941, the situation changed: under pressure from the Allies, Reza Shah was forced to abdicate and the Germans were subsequently driven out of the country. After the occupation of Iran by the Anglo-Soviet invasion (in “Research Diary” we find the cover of an etiquette booklet handed to the US soldiers, “Pocket Guide to Iran”), Persia’s Trans-Iranian Railway was confiscated and served as the so-called “Persian Corridor” for the supply of weapons to the Soviet forces.
One of the characteristics of the artist’s historical research is the juxtaposition of sometimes controversial contents, manifold media and open perspectives. History is a construct and as such is always subjective. It is important that the facts are and remain as accurate and objective. Photos, documents, archive materials connect with personal memories, create a picture from history and the basis for understanding a complex presence. Here, the photograph has a special role: seemingly, it supports the truth of the words, however its history shows that it was apt to manipulation from the beginning on and has been manipulated. Without heading, the camp could be anywhere, then again the photo emphasizes the credibility of the text: the American soldiers are actually already there, and in this huge number.

Exhibiting artists

Ramesch Daha


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