Viola Raikhel-Bolot and Miranda Darling founded their production company Vanishing Pictures to tell the stories of women who have shaped the art world but whose legacy remains in the shadow. Their most recent project is a book they co-authored called Iran Modern: The Empress of Art with a foreword written by Empress Farah Pahlavi. Naturally, we had to have a conversation with these global creatives who are as multidimensional, impactful and inspirational as the women whose stories they share. Elle spoke with Viola and Miranda during their global book tour and we're looking forward to seeing them in North America soon!
Elle: Your production company Vanishing Pictures tells "the stories of women who have shaped the art world but whose legacy remains in the shadows." Our mission for Zvelle In Conversation is similar in the sense that we want to tell stories of international women that are not being told and to celebrate that from a globally-inspired lens. Why is this important to you?
Miranda: Most of our collective mythology is told through the eyes of the Great Men: generals, presidents, and dictators; the cultural giants, the moguls and the revolutionaries, who have stood front and centre on the global stage and re-written our cultural and geo-political narrative to great fame. They become iconic and emblematic, celebrated for their contributions to human endeavour. However, behind these boldface names, exerting a very different, and yet no less powerful influence, are the women of history: the muses, monarchs, moguls, and mistresses whose stories have largely remained untold because of their gender, because of politics and economics, because of their mental health issues.
Vanishing Pictures Productions was founded to explicitly tell the stories of these women who have wielded soft power to change the course of history.
As founders of Vanishing Pictures – collaborators and co-conspirators – Viola and I come from different worlds. Viola’s expertise is in the global art market, advising and working with private banks, family offices, museums and luxury brands; my background is in geo-political strategy, and in writing. Our experience and interests have dovetailed perfectly in these projects. The stories Vanishing Pictures tell focus on the nexus between art and politics, told through the lives of the extraordinary women at the heart of them.
There is a great imbalance in the way we understand our past and Vanishing Pictures is addressing this in every story we tell. The stories of history’s fascinating women have remained largely unknown and underexposed for reasons of both geopolitics and gender, but they are utterly compelling – as are the personalities themselves — perhaps even more so for the fact that they have been sitting in the shadows for so long. Whether through art patronage or espionage, feminine charms or quiet influence, special talent, and a lot of nerve, women have long been used to finding indirect ways to exert power and shape their worlds. Sometimes these means were a conscious strategic choice, very often these women used the only ways they had available to them to survive and succeed. Ranging from Ancient Greece to pre-revolutionary Iran, our women have been present – if not crucial to – almost every geo-political turning point in history. The research Viola and I do for each one is extensive, from scouring ancient underground tunnels in Sicily to raiding the archives of couture houses in Paris, to taking tea with an Empress. Our aim is to shine a light on the legacy of these unique women so we can preserve their stories, and share them with the world in the hope that they uplift and inspire the women of today, and future generations.
To this end, we have also set up a foundation with its own publishing arm (Vanishing Pictures Foundation) that has the specific goal of helping women today who face overt or covert censorship in their field, and to give them back their voices. Without that voice, the history of half of humanity will be forgotten, and the future of humanity will continue to suffer for it. Silence is not always golden.
Elle: Congrats on your highly-acclaimed book Iran Modern: Empress of Art. Your book not only uncovers the historic journey of Empress Farah from the first queen in Iran to exile but it also has a foreword written by her. How did this book come to be and what are some of your highlights from this experience?
Viola: From the moment we set out to write this book, Miranda and I have been on a wild ride around the world and through history...researching and bringing Empress Pahlavi’s story to life. Shortly after our first interview with the Empress we found ourselves back in her Paris apartment, this time on Valentine’s Day, sipping tea and enjoying rose petal topped Isphahan cakes from Pierre Herme (her favourite) discussing her recollections from the time Andy Warhol visited her at Niavaran Palace, her time as a Girl Scout to the opening of TMoCA (Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art) on her birthday in 1978 — just months before she would be exiled from her beloved homeland forever. She has become a constant source of inspiration to us both personally and professionally. We never could have foreseen the level of involvement she would ultimately come to have with our project and are deeply appreciative of this.
When we arrived in Los Angeles to launch Iran Modern in October of last year, we were struck by an outpouring of love and emotion. With tears in her eyes, one woman shared with us that our book was a source of great pride for her — as an Iranian American this was the first time in 40 years she had something positive to identify with, something that reflected who she was and where she had come from. As much as Iran Modern is the legacy of Empress Farah, it is that of all Iranian women.
Elle: You also produced an accompanying documentary for the book. What did you want to express through this documentary? Are there any plans to share this globally?
Viola and Miranda: The documentary is a wonderful chance to delve deeper into the Empress' personal story, and to include extraordinary archival footage that is rarely seen, and obviously not possible to include in a book. We are still in production and look forward to sharing it with you soon.
Elle: I admire multi-dimensional women like you both. Viola, you are an internationally recognized art advisor with an established art advisory business, 1858 LTD and Miranda you are a published author with three books. How do you choose projects and what are the kind of stories that you want to tell through your work?
Viola: This idea of multi-dimensional women is exactly what we look for in the women we write about — the monarchs, muses, mistresses and moguls that have managed to change the course of history with their steely resolve, sharp minds, cultural prowess and a smile!
Miranda: Exactly! We also look for stories that have played out in the nexus between history, politics, and art… where the currents of geopolitics and culture collide. These are the most interesting to us — the exercise of soft power by women to shape the world around them — and also where our combined expertise is best used.
Elle: One person living or dead you’d like to have a conversation with?
Viola: Artemesia Gentileschi - the most celebrated female painter from 17th century Italy and one of the most influential female painters of all time. She worked in a time where women painters were virtually non existent - yet she remained true to her work and unapologetic in her role as a feminist. We are still discovering paintings today that were attributed to her father at the time but are finally being acknowledged as hers. She once said; 'My illustrious lordship, I’ll show you what a woman can do’.
Miranda: I love a good conversation — it’s impossible to choose! I would perhaps select Queen Elizabeth the First. . . I am fascinated by her construction of ‘the Faerie Queen’ as image, her political nous, and the way she resisted the pressure to marry and produce an heir. Marie Colvin, the war reporter who lost an eye in Sri Lanka, is also a favourite; Martha Gellhorn, Dervla Murphy, . . . intrepid women fascinate me. I am always trying to unearth the source of their courage in the hope that I can infuse my life with some of the same.
Elle: What is your favorite word or phrase?
Viola: Fasten your seatbelts for take off.
Miranda: Liberty, in any — and all — languages.
Elle: What does using your voice mean to you?
Viola: Choosing when and what you want to speak out about…and when you do, owning it - unapologetically.
Miranda: It means communicating your unique point of view clearly and uncompromisingly, and using your words to illuminate the things you want to change in the world. Sometimes it is as simple — and as hard — as asking the right questions.