On September 3, the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development granted its 2015 principal award to Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian. Based in Amsterdam, the Prince Claus Fund presents its awards annually to artists, thinkers and cultural organizations undertaking transformative work in the developing world.
Born in 1981, Tavakolian is one of Iran’s pioneering female photojournalists. Working in Iran and the wider Middle East, her photographs—which have been published in international magazines and newspapers such as the New York Times, Le Monde, Time Magazine and Newsweek—explore social issues that range from the impact of Iranian politics on everyday life to the significance of Kurdish women fighters in Syria.
In recent years, Tavakolian has expanded her practice beyond journalistic work to create photobooks and installations. One of them is currently on view at “The Great Game,” one of two exhibitions presented by the Iran Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. A video installation based on her photobook project “Blank Pages of an Iranian Photo Album” (2015), it documents the lives of Iran’s young middle class. In previous years, Tavakolian’s work has also been shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum in London, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Tavakolian has declared that she will donate a significant portion of her 100,000 euro (USD 112,000) prize: 13,000 euro (USD 14,500) to the Sheed Award, a prize for Iranian photojournalism; 10,000 euro (USD 11,000) to Mahak, an Iranian charity for children with cancer; and 7,000 euro (USD 7,800) to various organizations supporting animal welfare. In addition, she has pledged 15,000 euro (USD 16,700) toward assisting Syrian and Iraqi refugees. “I have worked in both their countries and want to give back to all the kindness Iraqis and Syrians always welcomed me with, despite the dire circumstances they live in,” Tavakolian wrote on her Facebook page.
The Prince Claus Fund also grants ten additional awards each year. Other notable 2015 Laureates include Latif Al-Ani, an Iraqi photographer active since the 1950s, Syrian filmmaker Ossama Mohammed, Kazakh artist and curator Oksana Shatalova, Chinese-Uighur musician Perhat Khaliq, Nigerian performance artist Jelili Atiku and Zimbabwean theatre group Amakhosi. Laureates will receive their awards in a ceremony presided over by the Dutch Royal family this December, while the Prince Claus Fund Gallery in Amsterdam will host an exhibition of Tavakolian’s work from November 27, 2015, to March 4, 2016.