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Sanaz Haeri - a citizen of the world, putting women at the forefront


"I am an Iranian artist born in Tehran. I’ve always had social and civic concerns in my works and mostly about women. I was a resident artist in 2010 in Spain, Albacete, and have had several group and individual exhibitions in Iran and other countries. My last exhibition was in Iranian Artists’ forum of Tehran and then e1Gallery in Tehran in September 2022. Recently I’m working on a comic strips book about social and nightlife in Tehran and new series."

Your work often revolves around social and civic concerns, particularly focusing on women. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your artistic exploration of these themes and why they hold significance for you?

Well, I think that’s come from my own experience of being a woman living in a city limited by many restrictive - and sometimes nonsense - rules and traditions that challenge me and take a lot of energy to be myself. I think somehow I’m depicting myself limited in an abstract - or, let’s say, empty- space surrounded by the lines.

You mentioned being a resident artist in Spain in 2010. How did this experience influence your artistic practice, and did it introduce new perspectives or themes in your work?

It was a great experience, of course, working with other artists and away from my homeland; I think that helped me to broaden my horizons and live another aspect of life, and I’m sure that by doing that, something has changed in my perspective.

Your recent exhibition in the Iranian Artists' Forum and e1Gallery in Tehran showcased your comic strip series about social and nightlife in Tehran. What drew you to explore this particular aspect of life, and what messages or emotions are you trying to convey through these visual connections?

Well, actually, I could not show my comic strip series in the galleries here because, as you know, there is censorship. The series I showed in the Iranian Artist Forum was Normophobia, which represented disfigured animals, and of course, even for that, I couldn't show some works because some body parts could seem like women's body parts - and in e1Gallery, I showed my Negative series which were somehow the same figures painted on plastic sheets and presented as photo negatives.

In your comic strip series, you mentioned that each frame is a work of art without a story, allowing the audience to create their narratives. How do you strike a balance between offering visual cues and leaving room for interpretation in your artwork?

What I was trying to do was to put some elements alongside each other. Of course, each of them has a meaning or sense for me but might have another sense for someone else, as we all have our own unique visual dictionary, which comes from memories, dreams, and experiences. Traffic signs indeed have a universal meaning for us all, but even there, our interpretation or understanding of them might vary. And after all, the whole sense you get from one work is what I'm really looking for.

Your Woman Life Freedom series reflects recent social and political changes in Iran. Can you share more about how your artistic expression responded to these events and the message you want to convey through these works?

Honestly, that was a strange experience for me; almost a year before the Woman Life Freedom movement in Iran, I suddenly added human body parts to the animals I was drawing before, and little by little, women's body parts came to the scene. Then, political and social changes happened, and as I looked back to what I painted, I realized that even before the movement, something had changed in me or the women I knew. It seemed that the sudden manifestation of women figures in my works was somehow related to what was happening in society. About the message, I can say it differs from one work to the other.

Your statement mentions hidden things that happen in Tehran nightlife despite limitations. How do you approach portraying these hidden aspects through your art, and what challenges, if any, do you face while navigating sensitive subjects?

Well, people say I have some kind of metaphoric way of expressing myself (my stories or visual works), but I think that's just the way I see the world; everything is a metaphor, and nothing is entirely without meaning. But along the way, the metaphors have become more clear. I think it took time for me to concur with self-censorship, or maybe that's just the current flow of the series which I'm going with. The challenge is the censorship and what other people might think when you - as an Iranian woman - suddenly start to speak frankly about your body or social things related to women.

As you mentioned, the concept of Woman Life Freedom emerged in your works even before it became a social movement. How do you see your art as an expression of social and cultural shifts, and what role do you believe art plays in shaping or reflecting these changes?

I think I've answered this question before, but about the role of art, I can just say that if you're honest with yourself and are sensitive to what happens around you, you cannot hide it in your works. An artwork is the sum of all the good and bad experiences you go through in your society and is a window to that era you're living in.

You have had exhibitions in Iran and other countries. How does the reception of your work differ between different cultural contexts, and how does this diversity influence your artistic approach?

Actually, I've never limited myself to what culture wants from me. I express myself, and in the end, I may or may not be able to show the works. I have more audiences outside Iran rather than inside, probably because of the economic situation or the situation of the art market here.

As an Iranian artist, how does your heritage and cultural background inform your artistic style and themes, and how do you find ways to connect with a global audience through your art?

My visual education was, of course, occidental, but then I came to a point where I went back and studied old Iranian paintings for a while and admired them a lot. After that, I began the Demons series, which is directly chosen from old Iranian books. I borrowed the position and form of the figures of Ghouls and Demons and brought them to a new and conceptual context. In general, I think the metaphors and odd creatures I’m creating have their own background in Iranian art or literature.

What are your future artistic aspirations and goals, and how do you envision your work evolving in response to ongoing social and political developments in Iran and beyond?

I can say that I'm not focused just on Iran. I would rather see myself as a citizen of the world than be limited by the normative art market of Iran. And my dream is to communicate with all the people, especially women, all around the world.


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