From Iran to the USA, with Australia in the middle, then from California to Arizona, to New York – this is Hadieh Afshani’s world trajectory so far. On her way, she paints interiors and landscapes, exhibits her art at solo and group shows, wins competitions. Some people say there’s certain sexual excitement in her paintings, though you won’t see any single person in there.
We met Hadieh Afshani at our international art competition “Show Your World” and started collaborating immediately. Get to know this charming painter, interviewed for the blog by Natalie Burlutskaya, curator at RE:ARTISTE International Art Organization.
RE:ARTISTE: You were born in Iran. Iran is not renowned for its art world or art market, in comparison, let’s say, to Paris, London, or Florence. How early and how did you understand that you would become a professional artist?
Hadieh Afshani: Like many other artists, when I was a child, I liked to do drawings or paintings. And I’ve always got encouraged that I was good at it. Different children get encouraged for different things they do, but I think that the only talent I had when I was a kid was drawing and painting [laughs]. At school I liked different subjects but at the time of choosing a field in college, I decided to study art and become a painter.
R:A: Were you allowed to express yourself freely, as a woman and as an artist, in Iran?
H.A.: Well, the sort of work I do is mostly interiors, and they are about women, their life, relationships, or even the sexual life of a woman. But it doesn’t necessarily show a woman in there. It always shows absence, or the presence of a woman but not in a clear way. So I would assume that I could show those works in Iran as well. Even though, in Iran we do have some limitations in many ways – to show or exhibit, for example it is not allowed to show nude women or stuff like that. But there is always a poetic way to express same concept. And that’s what I like about art. I would say, yes, I could do art about women and their life in Iran with a more symbolic, poetic, and metaphoric approach. If you’re talking about women and their sexual desires, then you don’t have to necessarily do a nude body, you can talk about it or show it in some other ways, which I have in my works.
R:A: What made you leave the home country?
H.A.: To be honest, we moved out because of my ex-husband: he needed to do some studying (he was an engineer), and that’s why we had to leave Iran. We went to Australia because it was a good place for his career. But then I did my own study there, and then I started working. I found Australia to be a good place for me in many ways. Later on, I did realize that because of many limitations, many difficulties that women have in Iran my move to Australia actually helped me. I moved out of Iran at the early age – when I was 23 years old. And though at that time it wasn’t a choice which I made to help my career, at the end, it worked for me well.
R:A: You were an art teacher in Australia. What did you teach?
H.A.: I was teaching Drawing, Life Drawing, Painting, and some other courses related to Visual Arts in a local university and some other private institutions.
R:A: Is basic art education in Iran different from other countries? How?
H.A.: In some ways, it is, in some ways, it’s not. I’m glad I studied basic skills and techniques, in a classical way at a university in Iran. Every semester we had painting and drawing, art history and art theory courses which was great. So, well, probably it’s not that different, basically.
R:A: You like painting interiors. And your paintings turn out to be quite sensual. You also give meaningful titles to your artworks, such as “A Float of Hope in Transit”. Why are you so drawn to interior spaces?
H.A.: That’s a very good question. I’ve been asking this question from myself a lot. I think spaces in relation to each other, the light coming from one space to another, have always been interesting to me. Also, I’ve always loved architectural places, like historic sites in Iran – they played with the light really well, for example, at the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. So probably that was a motivation for me, because I was seeing those beautiful places, I was drawn to that architecture, and I wanted to show it in my work. But, generally, spaces and rooms, with a relation to each other, – they have a lot to say! Especially, interiors and intimate places where people live have always been interesting to me.
R:A: Do you fantasize the rooms you make on canvas or do you transfer your real experience?
H.A.: I work from the places where I lived in, mostly. So my interiors are real. Though I had my artist studios, I like to work from where I live. I prefer to paint from the room and look at the place I paint in. Even though at the end I change it a lot and adjust a lot of things, and the painted place starts to look totally different from the room I worked in.
R:A: After Australia you moved to the USA. If it was a deliberate, conscious decision, why the U.S.?
H.A.: I loved Australia! As I said, that move worked for me. I met many inspiring people who helped me, I had successful shows in Australia and became a winner at some art competitions. But the place where I lived in Australia – Brisbane – is a relatively small town, and understanding the local people’s needs, I guess I wouldn’t have big audience for what I’ve been doing. So for a while I was thinking of moving to bigger cities, such as Melbourne or Sydney. But finally I thought that if I’m ready to make another big change – quit my job and leave my brother who also lived in Australia, then why not try the U.S. There is more awareness about the representational art here and more opportunities for artists in the USA. I wanted to continue being a representational painter, as well as doing some other things in art. But I didn’t want to be labeled as an ‘old-fashioned’ artist. And New York, hopefully, is the best place for that, too.
R:A: You are an award-winning and selling artist. What marketing, or entrepreneurial advice would you give to emerging artists?
H.A.: It’s a hard question to answer. The only thing I can say for sure is don’t wait until everything gets sorted out, until someone comes and discovers you, such as galleries or people from outside. This is maybe the hardest part in our job – we have to think about our work as our own business all the time. I wish I had taken some courses in relation with that – to learn how to market my work and how to basically look at it as a business, from the beginning. I only got that sort of attitude for only a few years now, really a few years. If I had it from the very beginning, maybe I could have improved my career to the next level. So what I’d suggest to other artists: think about it as a business. I am not saying to go toward a direction of only decorative art necessarily, if it’s not what you like to do. But try to find your audience, try to target them, get to know what you need to change, or adapt your market as much as you can. We have to have some strategies for that. That’s what I know now, and I’m not saying I’m doing it right, necessarily. But I’m trying!
R:A: When I see your paintings, somehow I envision you also as a mixed-media artist. Are you going to try new media rather than oil, acrylic, canvas?
H.A.: I have tried different media a lot: I can say that almost everything you can use to draw with or paint with – I have tried it. I experimented with all sorts of surfaces you can imagine, too. Now I know I like to work on panels, such as wood panels. I scratch a lot, and like to add more layers and get the certain texture. I really like the medium of painting! I like the way we can use glazing and different layers of paint in the image – it is always exciting to me. And also I like that in painting we can get some ideas from the reality but we create something which is totally different from what we saw. It gives me a lot of freedom to create what I really want and the whole process is creative and spontaneous as well. Especially, if we have a good skill of painting and drawing it gives us the freedom of adjusting and changing it to something totally different. This is really thrills me. So I really like painting. But yes, I’m open to anything else to try. I’m working on a project now which is an installation – and it is a new thing for me. Still we use a lot of painting there – we paint every object for the ‘dinner table’ installation. But the whole thing is on a much larger and different scale. So I think, eventually, I like to be somewhere between sculpture and painting. Something very tangible that I can dig into it, change the surfaces as if I need to.
R:A: What projects are you working on currently? Where will we see your work?
H.A.: I’m working on the most exciting project I’ve ever done till now, which is called “The First Supper”. There are two of us – me and my Israeli friend, incredible artist Shirley Siegal. It’s about how the voice of women, or the approach of women can improve the situation in the Middle East and world at large. We are making an installation of a dining table, where we paint plates and everything that will be on that dining table. There is a lot of symbolic meaning in each element. This is about the possibility to encourage people to a more ‘feminine’ approach for solving problems which means come around the table and talk, discuss in a friendly way, and get a result through that, rather than fighting. That’s the project I’m very excited about.
*Important Note from RE:ARTISTE, Hadieh Afshani and Shirley Siegal: we plan to show the installation “The First Supper” at Gallery MC, in November 2016 . A special site will be dedicated to it within the “Show Your World” international exhibition. We do want to make it a travelling installation and will appreciate your support and advice where we can apply to exhibit “The First Supper” further on. This installation is an educational art piece, a conversation challenge embracing diversity, unity, and peaceful approach to problem solving, which people often call female. We call it feminist and want our voice to be heard. Thank you for your support, and please share this information with your friends and relatives. Any suggestions can be emailed at email@example.com.