Natasha Morris

PhD student; Associate Lecturer

Thesis: The Masculine Image in Qajar Iran (1779-1925)

Supervised by Dr Sussan Babaie

Funded by AHRC/CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership.

My thesis is a study of masculinity as articulated in the visual culture of Qajar era Iran (1779-1925).

The material evidence ranges from monumental paintings destined for niches on the walls of royal palaces and elite mansions, to lacquer-painted playing cards and penboxes, and from murals in Sufi lodges and coffee houses to lithographed books of Shi`ite narratives and classical Persian poetry.

With the exception of the occasional female dancer or concubine, the subject of these diverse mediums of Qajar visual culture in both public and private realms was that of the male figure. Be it the folk heroes of Shi’ite martyrology, the king and his progeny or even the ‘everyman’, images of Qajar masculinities circulated within spaces of male sociability. Given the mostly public visibility and viewing practices of such images by men, the collective effect of this material allows us to trace the use of male gendered imagery as an emblematic and ideological motif in Qajar culture. Representations of the male body, my study will argue, communicated cultural attitudes towards masculine identity and nationhood as Iran entered what has been referred to as the global moment of modernity in the nineteenth century. Iran during ‘the long Qajar century’ was subject to emergent colonial ventures from European superpowers including Britain, France and Russia. In that light, the Qajar masculine image was uniquely interwoven with emergent issues of nationhood in the tense negotiations between the global and the local, and their implications for the conception of ‘the idea of Iran’ as a country conscious of its own image and antiquity.

This project will be the first art historical consideration of Iranian masculine image during the nineteenth century and the first to investigate the reliable function of Qajar art as a social document.


  • BA History of Art – Courtauld Institute of Art (2010-2013)
  • MA History of Art – Courtauld Institute of Art (2013-2014) | Special Option: Persianate Painting – From the Mongols to the Safavids (14th – 17th Centuries)
  • Iran Heritage Foundation Research Assistant and Courtauld Scholar (2013-2014)


  • ‘Introduction to the Arts of Islam’, Teaching Assistant, Autumn School Short Course with Dr Babaie, The Courtauld Institute of Art (September 2016)
  • BA1 Foundations Teaching Assistant – Block 4 ‘Urban Sites and Sights: Istanbul, Isfahan and Delhi in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries’

Research interests

  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Masculinity
  • Iran
  • The Male Body
  • 19th Century
  • Material Culture

Recent conference papers

  • “Opening the Face of Isfahan: Locating Portraiture in Safavid Single Page Painting 1600-1650” at Symposia Iranica, Downing College Cambridge, April 2015 | Honourable Mention – Brill Publisher’s Best Paper Prize in Iranian Art History
  • “Bodies of Men: Warfare, Corporeality and the Masculine Image in the Qajar Era” at the 8th European Conference of Iranian Studies, The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, September 2015
  • “Coffeehouse Heroes: Art, Homosocial Space and the Articulation of Masculine Archetype in Qajar Iran” at Symposia Iranica, Pembroke College Cambridge, April 2017

Other academic activity

  • British Institute of Persian Studies – Student Members Committee (2015 – 2017)
  • Co-organiser ‘Converging on the Object: The Courtauld Metal Bag’, International Conference, The Courtauld Institute of Art, 10th May 2014

Exhibition Catalogues

  • ‘Recipe for a Poem – Azadeh Razaghdoost’ | Sophia Contemporary Gallery, Mayfair (November 2016)


  • Co-author ‘Honar – The Afkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art’ (Phaidon, 2017)

Newspaper & Magazine Articles

  • ‘I Saved My Belly Dancer – Interview with Youssef Nabil’ | REORIENT Magazine (February 2016)
  • ‘How Iraqi Are You? – Interview with Hayv Kahraman’ | REORIENT Magazine (October 2015)
  • ‘Iran Goes Back to the Future at the Venice Biennale | The Guardian (18th May 2015)
  • ‘An Anthology of the Final Decade: Exploring Iran’s Past Through Art’ | The Guardian (19th March 2015)
  • ‘Infinite Possibility: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’ | The Guardian (27th December 2014)
  • ‘From Institution to Iranian Revolution: Unedited History 1960-2014’ | The Guardian (3rd December 2014)
  • ‘Iran: Unedited History’ | REORIENT Magazine (September 2014)
  • ‘Strange Fruits of a Fascination’ | REORIENT Magazine (February 2014)
  • Interview with Tamara Abdul Hadi – NeverLazy Magazine (Autumn 2013)
  • Interview with Rose Issa – NeverLazy Magazine (Winter 2012)