I first became familiar with Shaqayeq Ahmadian’s work after I found her page on Instagram one night in 2018. Since then, I have followed her development as an artist and we have become friends, bonding over the experience of being young women working in creative fields; however, because she lives in Iran and I live in the United States, we have never had the chance to meet in person and discuss her art together. The following conversation is the result of many messages sent back and forth in an attempt to remedy this lack of proper communication while sharing her unique work and galvanizing voice with a potentially novel audience. This interview was conducted over the course of several months: from February to April of 2020.
Are you originally from Tehran? How has the sociocultural atmosphere and rich history of Iran influenced your growth as an artist?
No, I was born in the north of Iran, in the Caspian Sea region. I moved to Tehran when I was eighteen to study painting. After six years, I am still living and working in Tehran with my husband.
It is a fact that everyone is influenced by the environment in which they live, especially if it is full of old and beautiful history; but when I walk the streets of Tehran, it is more the social and contemporary culture that connects me to my people and to the history of my homeland.
Can you describe how this transition of moving from the north of Iran by the Caspian Sea to Tehran affected your art?
One of the important steps for me was to move to Tehran; the capital city is the center for arts and culture. I was therefore able to participate in more than twenty group exhibitions and be able to work with the best and most important gallery of Iran, the Aaran Gallery. Tehran is a busy city with a good number of galleries and institutions, lots of advertisement and possibility of exposure. Every Friday, hundreds of artists, students and art lovers attend the openings of galleries and everyone follows the news. And you can discuss art and life with like-minded people.
What is it about the contemporary culture in Tehran that you find so connective?
I have lived in different parts of Tehran, different neighborhoods with surprisingly diverse cultures and mindsets and lifestyles, all in one city. This diversity has been really interesting and educational. Tehran is a megapolis and one has the opportunity to experience quite a lot. There is great energy in the city, and encountering so many people in a such short span of time is really interesting and often intoxicating.
Your first solo show at the Aaran Gallery in 2019 was called “I Will Find the Right Words and They Will be Simple,” echoing a line from Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. As a poet and painter, I find this title quite intriguing. Can you describe the relationship between language and your art?
First of all, I have to say that it is very difficult for me to select a name; to summarize everything in one name, it sounds a little scary to me. For the solo show, my gallery manager and I found this name after a lot of searching in my daily notes and poems. This name was more a description of my life as an artist and my endeavors, and not just a solo exhibition title.
How do your daily notes and poems connect to your art practice?
The common point between my paintings and my daily notes is that they are both about my inner world; and of course, most of the time these notes are about painting, as if I write to myself to be reminded that I should paint them.
Can you speak about your daily practice? Do you have any routines or rituals for your craft?
Painting and practicing over and over is a vital part of my life. I work over seven hours a day, and my works reflect my life as well as everyday happenings.
One might say that you have developed your own visual language. Three recurring figures in your art are female forms, birds and cakes. Can you elaborate on how you see these figures as being in conversation with one another? What do they mean to you?
My paintings are about my inner world, full of memories of great and small experiences, many of which seem to be of interest to my audience too, and they seem to relate to them. I often think that my work is a portrayal of my subconscious as well as my imagination, and they are in conversation with each other. There are some repetitive elements in my works like cakes that always have two meanings for me: childhood joys and childhood pains.
Also, becoming a woman and, of course, the environment that I live in, which has a lot of impact on my drawings. Also birds, besides their beauty and their forms, have always been painted since ancient times, and for me, birds are a metaphor for freedom and playfulness.
Do you believe that the duality—which can be seen in the double meaning of cakes for you, as well as the relationship between the conscious and unconscious—is a form of tension needed in artwork to form an affective bridge between the artist and her audience?
Yes, I think that this semantic duality causes the audience to feel freer as they observe the painting or sculpture. It also allows them to let their imagination free and bring in their own emotions and experiences, and, therefore, feel more connected to the works. My world is an intimate one, and I think especially the audience here are interested to look into the inner life of an artist, as if you are looking into an aquarium!
Can you elaborate on what “becoming a woman” means for you and your art practice?
Almost every face in my paintings is that of a woman, and each of them has their own story. Simply said, I think that is because I understand and live the life of a woman. And it is the right resolution for me to express my feeling as a young woman: same concerns and limitations, probably similar goals and dreams.
What do you think is unique about being a young woman artist? What are some of the struggles you have faced as a result of this identity?
It is all a different and unique experience to be a young female artist because of the huge interesting world awaiting you. Although, the younger you are, the more difficult it is in such a patriarchal system involving male artists in authority over females. The impaired social system cannot take the women who rise and shine! Much harder it is if you are young. So far, I have been ignored by people I know. Once, I was invited to a party and some of my colleagues did not even say hello to me—surprisingly, even the female artists. That is the outcome of the wrong system. It makes people close their eyes and hearts. But I will shine and the dazzling rays of light will be seen, even by closed eyes!
My works introduce newer thoughts from a different point of view and newer forms that, for many people, might not be comprehensible. Whether they approve it or not, I will work harder and harder—and I will always remember the only two people supporting me: my beloved husband and my dear gallery manager.
Recently, you have incorporated sculpture into your art practice. What made you initiate this shift? What do you find sculpture can uniquely provide as a medium that is unavailable in painting?
I think three-dimensional sculptures help me create an atmosphere that brings the audience right into my mindset. The sculptures always include elements from my paintings and reinforce my narrative, bringing the audience to my inner world.
If you had to describe this narrative of your inner world, what would it be?
My inner world is a nonlinear narrative full of bad and good memories of my childhood: my life and experiences, fun and funny side of stories, some lovely moments and also sad stories. I believe that my audience are able to feel these emotions, but I also think that they can find their own narrative within my stories.
Do you think it is this nonlinear temporality of your work that can lead to something like a feminist reordering of traditional narratives and projected futures?
I think that time is both relevant and irrelevant in my works. While my past experiences are important to me, they will fade, and new realities, new stories, will take shape. I am hoping that I will never step into a realm of nostalgia. I hope to remain true to myself and pave my own individual path.
What do you see in your future as an artist?
I think about work more than anything; I am consumed with my work, and I know the future is going to be the result of my endeavors today.
The future is not something I am concerned about. I try to live in the moment, especially since, in Iran, your best laid plans can very often result in nothing. I spend the best part of everyday working on my new project.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?
This situation will definitely have an effect on my job. My husband and I have been quarantined for about two months now, and I spend my time watching movies, listening to music, drawing some small paintings, and taking care of my cats.
I started an interesting project a few days ago called “Happy Faces.” I asked my followers from all over the world to send me a picture of their smiling faces so that I can paint them. Approximately one hundred people participated in this project after forty-eight hours.
It is interesting because I do not usually tell them which painting is actually theirs, and they basically have to guess which one is their face. I think this helps them connect more with my work, and also pass this quarantine time more easily.
I am thinking about the future and the days after all this is over, and trying to stay optimistic and positive.