Castles Made of Sand

It is with this determination to keep the ancient city alive in the mind that Elhum Shakerifar, an undergraduate from Wadham College, Oxford, has set up The Ancient City of Bam: A Photographic Memorial, an exhibition of photographs taken of the ancient city last April. Elhum was travelling in Iran during her year abroad as part of her degree course. As well as being a collection of beautifully composed images, Elhum describes the exhibition as a ‘monument or memorial’, a visual reminder to people of just what an incredible place this was. ‘If I had known I wouldn’t see it again, I would have looked even closer,’ she commented.

The mainly landscape photographs are striking for several reasons. The sand-castle like buildings are thrown into relief by the ochre coloured light at sunset, and the deep blue expanses of sky create geometric compositions which look as reminiscent of a George Braque canvas as they do of a photo on the pages of National Geographic; it is with a true artist’s eye that Elhum has captured the winding cavernous streets of Bam and its ancient architecture.

But it was not just a city that was destroyed in the earthquake. Over 41,000 lives were lost, and this exhibition aims to keep those innocent victims in mind as well. The Persian people are incredibly proud of their cultural heritage, it is relatively unknown to the West and is an important part of the individual’s identity; by keeping the memory of the city alive, the spirit of the people who lived there will live on too.

Uncomfortably juxtaposed with the beautiful images of the ancient city are the front pages of the Iranian newspapers. ‘Death Toll Mounts’, reads the front page of Iran News, photographs of a very different kind illustrating suffering in the rawest of forms; rude heaps of bodies, dejected rescue workers, families grieving. Fatemeh, age 35, burying her two children. ‘I am burying myself in this grave’ she explains.

The proceeds from the exhibition, which is running for a limited time at St Anne’s College Oxford, are being donated to the Popli Khalatbari Charitable Foundation – Bam Earthquake Fund, as are the profits from the sale of the works themselves. ‘This place was incredible, and now, it’s not there any more. I want to make people remember that, I want to make it a reality’ Elhum says of the project. The reality may be a painful one, but the memory is beautiful.

Prints and posters of the exhibition are available for purchase. For more information contact Elhum Shakerifar, Wadham College, Oxford OX1 3PN or visit:

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