Marjan, welcome to RepDigest. Tell the audience a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
I was born in Rasht, Gilan, in the north of Iran, beside the Caspian Sea in summer of 1982. I am the youngest in a family of five. My parents are both retired. My father owned a repair-shop for televisions and radios, and my mother was a hairdresser. I have a sister and brother, both of whom are married. We lived in Rasht, but for several years we moved to Tehran, then back to Rasht. I studied there until the end of high school before migrating to Bandar Abbas in the south of Iran. My parents believed the economic future of this city would be much better for the family.
After a year, I left for university in Kerman for four years before returning to Bandar, but I always traveled back to Rasht and stayed with my sister. It is the only city that I would never forget. I really like my hometown and believe my interest in art first appeared there. As an artist, I am a painter and illustrator. I also do photography and graphic design, but those are not my primary focus. In the beginning, photography was just a hobby for me, but after a while my heart chose it as another voice. Just like painting and illustration, I am not professional at it, but my heart chose to speak through it – mostly when it is sad or mad at certain politicians or people. I call it my Heart Silent Cry!
How long have you been an artist and how did you get your start?
From early childhood, I showed an interest in art, especially by participating in an international art competition. My sister heard a message from a television program about a Japanese International painting competition. At the suggestion of my sister I participated. It was done in two stages, national and international. My artwork entered to the national, but not in Japan. This created my path and it is where my art journey started. I studied Graphic Design in high school in Rasht, and Painting and Visual Arts at university in Kerman. After graduating, I soon found myself with a job in the community. Teaching in a college for a year as a designer, as well as a coordination employee in IRIB Khalij-e Fars. It was a part-time job. These years are what I call it the "Dark Time" in my life. At that time I was thinking to save money for a stable future, so I did not follow art as I expected. It was during those years that my first solo exhibition was held at the suggestion of one of my colleges. Maybe that move woke me up a little, but I still was moving like an old tired turtle. So, If I want to calculate after graduating it will be 14 years. Without calculating the Dark Time, maybe nine years.
According to your website, you were born in the city of Rasht, Iran. Is it true that it means "City of Rain" and what do you find most inspiring about the city of your birth?
Yes, "Rasht" or "Resht" as rooted in the very old languages of Persia. All of those refer to rain or raining. Gilan is the only province in Iran with differences from other provinces. Rasht, which is its capital, rains more than all other cities in Iran. It is well known as the "City of Silver Rains" among the people. To answer the second part of question, I would say it's nature and history. Most cities in Iran are desert, and of course have their own beauties. This city is different and absorbs many people, especially during the holidays. I personally like rain, snow, and the green, fresh of nature, so I found Rasht was just the right place for me to be born and grow up. The city of Rasht helped me to see these beauties I enjoy and allowed me to follow art.
Historically, Rasht was a major transport and business center. It connected Iran to Europe, that is why it was known as the "Gate of Europe". This is perhaps one of the cases where the culture of Gilan province is slightly different from other locations here. You may have heard that Iran is a somewhat patriarchal society, but Gilan has been one of the few provinces where the patriarchy is less intense – where men and women are almost equal. In the distant past, when the value of education was quite low in my country, fathers in Gilan allowed their daughters to study. Hijab was not obligatory for women. They covered their hair and ears because of the cold weather, not as Hijab, and work was divided between men and women. Of course, many things have changed in the last half century.
Unfortunately, In Iran, closed culture is still seen in some cities – cities where women are still suffering because of patriarchy. This has nothing to do with the law. It is a cultural and lifestyle case. Even universities could not change it completely. These issues captured my attention, directed me toward the culture of my hometown, Rasht. To think and pay attention to injustices against women – there should be no difference between women from the north or south, east or west. Sometimes lifestyle and thoughts need to be improved. The history of my city and, of course, my country has taught me that progress depends on increasing communication – and to never be a fanatic.
What is the art scene like in Iran? How have things changed during the age of Covid?
Here, the state of the art is not very interesting. The artistic movement that began during the Pahlavi Dynasty faded for several years. In many provinces, artists are not given the attention they deserve. In my personal opinion, the community and society tastes are less kind to art and artists. Among the many branches of art, society prefers music the most. Of course, to the extent that suits their taste, not like a valuable work of art. The art situation in our capital of Tehran is not very interesting either. I traveled to Tehran in 2013 to see major exhibitions and works by famous artists in museums. I wanted to get to know the artist community and hold a solo exhibition. I was there for about one year and it was a good experience, but I realized it was not much different from other cities in the country.
Few artists support each other here and exhibitions are not well received, especially in the cities. Most visitors are acquaintances, friends, or art students. Censorship is very important in Tehran, as some works are not allowed to be shown. Corona didn't have much of an impact on the status of artists as many exhibitions had limited visitors from the beginning. Perhaps the situation for gallery owners has since become more difficult in terms of financial income. This is not limited to hygiene or quarantine due to Corona, but more related to economic conditions. I've noticed more artists displaying their works through virtual networks and personal pages. One of the advantages of this method is that artists have a global audience – a great way to get to know more artists and art lovers around the world.
Which mediums do you prefer working in? What brings you the most satisfaction as an artist?
Since I'm primarily interested in old manuscripts, then I'd say prehistoric art. Illustration is the most enjoyable for me, and for my artworks I discovered that pencil and paper are much more interesting than any other material. Pencil and paper are very clean to use – like "Inseparable Lovers" to me. The reason goes back to my childhood. Paper reminds me of the smell of old books when I'd open them. The other reason is its nature. My hands and nose truly enjoy it, and my eyes could stare at its texture for as long as they wanted. Only a pencil with its unique nature could be so soft and sharp on paper, how it allows me to see the texture of the paper the way I like. The sound is also perfect to me. For a pencil, the weight of the paper does not really matter, but for a brush with watercolor or oil, it is a major issue. The other reason is the pencil's various hardness or softness, as well as its sharpness. Pencils have the ability to be as sharp as I want, while brushes are too soft for me, so I use them less. Although I do sometimes use oil with pencil on paper when I want to refer to an old topic. I may even use sandpaper. For me, paper is a big world as well as a thick wall!
You are also a skilled graphic designer. Please share some of your most successful experiences in this profession. What services do you offer and what are your favorite design programs?
I don't do much graphic design. The most sensitive of my graphic design works can be seen on my website. Of all the graphics I've done, I like the cover design I created most. I've also done a few logo designs during my career, and must say that one of my strangest orders was for a television sports series. It was strange because I do not follow sports and do not know any athletes except for a few names I've heard from other people. This story dates back nine years and the sports program now has a different logo. Another strange memory goes back to the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Scene design was very important for the IRIB Khalij-e Fars, and the managers sort of designed the scenes themselves. I had to prepare a series of photos graphically. The sensitivity of this program was very high and it was a very heavy project for me, both as a stage designer and as a graphic designer. As for the software. I mostly work with Illustrator and Photoshop. They are practical and useful software.
What are some common misconceptions the Western world may have about Iranian culture? What are you most proud of in the context of nationality, religion or history? What do you find most lovely about your Persian heritage?
Well, I've never traveled or lived outside of Iran, but in my interactions with people on social media or with tourists who have traveled to Iran, I've never heard of any Western people – those who really know us Iranians – misunderstand our culture. I realize that certain people still don't know the difference between Iranians or Persians with Arabs. Since they think we are all Muslims, we must have Arab culture. Iranians and Arabs are quite different, each with its own unique culture. To answer the second question, I am only proud of humanity. Whoever cares about humanity builds nationality and history. For me, humanity is the same religion that has a place in one's heart. To answer the third question, to build a house based on honesty and humanity, as Cyrus the Great did, that person puts humanity at the forefront of his plan to live in peace. He has made a house with many different cultures called Persia, much like a loving father.
Do you find it challenging to be a female artist in Iran? Are there any cultural stigmas or barriers preventing you from expression? If so, how would you change or improve cultural norms?
As an Iranian woman who works in the field of art, I would say there is no difference between being a woman or a man artist. It's challenging to be an artist here. I'd say our biggest concern is about government censorship, but the lack of public support for the artist community is an even bigger pain. It is very difficult to be a painter, as your words are not understood by the general public. Most people believe that painting means drawing portraits and beautiful scenery, and they do not welcome exhibitions except for friends, relatives, or art lovers. Painters are considered the weak section of society. This belief is still felt in society – "Is it possible to make money with painting?"
It may be possible to find success against censorship with repeated protests and underground exhibitions, but we have to be more patient with the popular belief, which has longer roots. Personally, I believe that social networks are the most appropriate tools that can influence both censorship and public misconception. It can also introduce the true value of art to the younger generation. With the right use of social media, we can connect with other nations to make cultures more complete and learn from each other – a place like a modern world school.
You are an avid photographer. There is a lovely collection of doors featured on your website. Where does this fascination with doors stem from?
Thank you! Yes, I am also interested in photography. There are many reasons for photographing the doors. The first reason again goes back to my childhood. When I'd go out in early morning around 6 a.m., I'd go under the pretext of buying bread. I would look through the keyholes and see inside these big old houses in the alley. It was a mysterious and beautiful world, full of stories and mysteries that permeated my brain with the scent of morning air. From that time on, doors and keyholes were like comic books to me. Many years later, after I went to Tehran to see larger exhibitions and hold my own second exhibition, I got tired of the modern and artificial life there, so I joined my sister in Rasht for a while to rest.
I then walked for hours and took pictures with my cell-phone. My intention was to take pictures of the old streets and alleys of my hometown, like a diary. Unfortunately, my hometown had also become artificial like Tehran. I was then encouraged to enter some pictures as an exhibition on my social network and website. To say that every door is like a book that has a story… stories that smell of alleys and the familiar narratives of grandparents. Our childhood stories, what should be preserved, not destroyed by imitating Western culture in the sense of modernization. We need to evolve by getting to know different cultures, not by destroying the past. While this may be a recurring theme, some things have to be said and seen many times to be effective.
You have a vast social media following. Do you enjoy seeing the works of people from other cultures? Has social media opened your mind or exposed you to new influences?
Yes, that's right. Social media is a great way to get to know the artists of the world – a comfortable trip, LOL! Each platform has its own unique capabilities and I prefer to move very slowly and purposefully on my networks. I came to the conclusion that no social network is superior to another. Each should be used according to its capabilities.
LinkedIn is where I meet artists and invite them to see my work. Instagram allows me to arrange works in a gallery with a very good view. Facebook has groups that are like useful university classes. Sometimes I see very good documentaries and educational films about history there. I am rarely on Tumblr. My focus there is more to get to know collage artists.
Some people think being on social media is time consuming, but if we move purposefully and slowly, we can realize its importance. Never rush. It is important to move towards the goal. Social networks are useful future-making channels that should be taken seriously.
Has your family been supportive of your pursuit of artistic excellence?
Yes, my family are always with me. They really understand me. In the past, choosing art as a way for the future was not very easy. It was a common misconception. Some families believe that if a pupil considers something other than medicine or engineering, he or she would not be considered intelligent. Fortunately, the announcement of my choice in "Art" was welcomed by my family. The first person in my family to notice my interest in art was my sister, but they all really helped me. I truly thank my mother, sister and brother, as well as their lovely families – especially my niece. You know, I'm a very happy aunt. My niece always understands and listens to me eagerly, LOL!
What are your future goals? What do you wish to achieve as an artist and where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
I am getting acquainted with different cultures by studying the beliefs and legends of each different nation. China, Japan, Persia, Greece and many other nations. I also try to follow the past, present and future and swim in the different oceans that I reached at the end of university. To find the unity in my artworks, that is my goal – works that show east, west, north and south… and middle-east culture. The Unity! Also, doing artworks that can serve society and humanity. I am currently preparing a family illustration book that may take 20 years to complete. This is a book that refers to two families, so I would like it to be my best and most complete work of art. I would like to see what I want in art in this book.
Any other fascinating tidbits of information you'd like to share?
Write and illustrate your dreams. It is very enjoyable and acquaints man with his unknowns. Many thanks for taking the time to read my story – and many thanks to RepDigest for giving me the opportunity to share my story... Thank you!