Shabnam Jannesari is an Iranian artist who received her MFA with distinction in Studio Art at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She exhibited her work in the United States and abroad. Most recently she had a solo exhibition, The Carpet Grew Like a Garden, in Cambridge, MA and participated in the group exhibition Crossing Cultures in Boston. This spring her paintings and drawings were included in the Fidelity’s corporate collection. She is a recipient of the Distinguished Art Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth and the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant, Canada (2020). She incorporates both drawing and painting to explore the memories and nostalgia of distant intimacies in her life through narrative. She illuminates the plight of the Iranian woman – censored by an overreaching patriarchy. Jannesari’s paintings expresses her personal story, but they also reflect on the life of suppressed Iranian women in general. Jannesari carefully composes the figures in which empowers the complex reality of Iranian female identity.
At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become an artist? Did the realization emerge slowly?
I can express all of my feelings by painting. My paintings are expressions of my personal story, but they are also reflections on the life of Iranian, and suppressed, women in general. I address the complex reality of Iranian female identity from my unique personal experience. My work will consist of large, highly saturated oil paintings with figures that are roughly life size. Though I will work with paint, I am interested to maintain the immediacy of drawing to avoid rendering my forms too closely. Working in this way allows me to experiment with form, color and abstraction in my imagery that departs from reality and supports a special and secret space against reality.
How did you evolve your style and favorite mediums?
My work consists of large, highly saturated oil paintings with figures that are roughly life size. Similar to Alice Neel, who used strong, flowing contour lines, I try to maintain the immediacy of drawing and avoid rendering my forms too tightly. Working in this way allows me to experiment with form, color, and abstraction in my imagery and create an environment that departs from reality. My work challenges the oppression of women by the Islamic patriarchy in Iran. The opposition is not explicit or radical in my paintings and drawings, rather, I seek to create a different kind of world for my figures, one that has a quiet kind of power, and is intimate and free. The heterotopic dreamscapes I construct create the possibility for escape from the reality of oppression, a space in which the women in my art and in my life are empowered and can exist freely. These paintings tell the stories of the life I left behind. In my work, I explore the bittersweet nostalgia of distant intimacies in my life. My closest friends and family are transformed into figures in surreal and hopeful visions of an alternate reality. My paintings express my personal story, but they are relatable to any woman who has been censored, sexualized, or otherwise oppressed by a patriarchal society. I carefully compose my figures in heterotopic spaces to reveal and empower the Iranian female identity. I flip the artistic tradition of objectified or idealized female forms intended to suit the male gaze. My subjects stare back and confront not only the viewer, but the notion that women should have to be anything other than their truest self. By reinventing and creating imaginary space, I construct an abstracted, highly emotive world and illuminate the plight of the Iranian woman censored by an overreaching patriarchy. Through this, I am reclaiming multiple aspects of my identity as an Iranian female and, thereby, establishing my longing for genuine selfhood.
What are your time management techniques? Do you have regular working hours...or favorite times to work?
Since I have a full time job as a painting professor in Hastings College, I need to schedule a regular working hours to make a time to be in my studio. I usually spend my weekend in my studio.
Do you work on more than one piece at a time, or primarily just on one?
Yes, I usually work on some paintings at the same time. Especially when I stuck in one painting and cannot finish it, I have to start another one and then I might find the solution for the first one. I learnt that sometimes my own paintings are the best guideline for me.
What would you say is your biggest influence--that which keeps you working, regardless of all else, your most steadfast motivation?
Much like Vincent van Gogh, I am inspired by my surroundings and the spaces I find myself in. I am doing what van Gogh did in that I am painting my surroundings in an emotional and expressionistic manner. Unlike van Gogh or other historical artists, my paintings feature some of the seemingly mundane aspects of life in the twenty-first century. Fluorescent and LED lights bathe the space in unearthly light, and microwaves or pizza boxes are rendered with great care and tenderness. Domestic spaces are flooded with pattern and color, the flourishing Persian motifs creep over walls, objects, and empty space organically, without thought for angles or linear perspective. The female figures I depict within these spaces sit or recline, unashamed and unapologetic. They are not idealized, objectified, or censored. They are at home in this space, at rest away from judging eyes.
Does trying something new and not knowing the rules -- the boundary pushing -- create anxiety or excitement in you? (Or both?)
I love experimenting with new medium or new method. Even if it makes me nervous, I take it as an advantage using this feeling in my art.
Do you enjoy having the "duality of both chaos and control" or are you happiest with a set plan?
I begin my process with photos from my home in Iran. These are photos I have taken myself as well as vintage family photos. The images I take often have aerial perspectives. Sometimes I climb and balance on furniture to achieve them. I transform the images I take by creating collages that I use as painting references. Accordingly, I juxtapose spaces and build my own heterotopic compositions. Then, I make large drawings of these collages with acrylic on paper, thinking about the scale, composition and value. After adding or deleting imagery, I start to paint.
Do you have any projects or events forthcoming?
Yes, I have my solo show “Ribbons of Space” in Hastings College Gallery in Nebraska, starting from October 8 to December 3,2021. Also, there is another show, “Domestic State” in Wheaton College in Massachusetts, starting from November 4 to December 15, 2021
Azin is Getting Married
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