Welcome to an exclusive exploration of artistic brilliance and cultural richness as we delve into the captivating world of Iranian artist Afarin Sajedi. In this illuminating interview, Sajedi unveils the intricate layers of her latest exhibition, “Bon Appétit,” a masterful tapestry that seamlessly weaves Renaissance inspiration with contemporary sensibilities.
Renowned for her evocative and culturally infused works, Sajedi invites us on a journey through her creative process, shedding light on the symbolism, emotions, and profound narratives embedded in each stroke of her brush. From her Persian roots to the vibrant artistic milieu of Paris, Sajedi’s art transcends boundaries, provoking thoughtful reflection and challenging conventional perceptions.
Join us as we uncover the stories behind the art, explore the themes of womanhood and societal commentary, and gain insights into Sajedi’s transformative approach to pushing artistic boundaries. This is an exclusive glimpse into the mind and soul of an artist whose work goes beyond the canvas, creating a dialogue that is both intimate and bold. Welcome to the world of Afarin Sajedi and her mesmerizing exhibition, “Bon Appétit.”
Can you tell us a bit about your artistic journey and how you arrived at the theme of “Bon Appétit” for your latest exhibition?
In the past, I had already covered food and the mannered presentation of food in my series entitled “Chef Offer”. Indeed, I view food not merely as something consumable to stay alive but as an indication of a person’s concealed identity, showing the level of human predatory behaviour with social etiquette. What do you eat? What are your favourite dishes? How do you disguise your vampirism? Do you serve your meals ceremoniously?
How has your Iranian heritage influenced your artistic style and themes throughout your career?
If you’re looking for signs or symbols of the influence of Iranian painting, you won’t find much in my work. My work is not about a specific geographical environment. I like Western philosophy more because it deals with man’s existence and inner being, not some divine existence. (I’m thinking of existentialism.) As for my Iranian identity, yes, I grew up as a woman in the Iranian environment. In addition to my personal life story, for the people of my country, death and getting up and carrying on are part of our character, and each of the women I create is accompanied by death, even if it’s at a royal party, and her eyes bear witness to the many stories she has lived through.
What inspired the Renaissance-inspired theme of “Bon Appétit,” and how did you approach blending historical influences with modern sensibilities?
At first, I had a weakness for the fascinating composition and palette of Rococo, but also, the story of Marie-Antoinette and her passionate life and execution (The Queen’s Tragedy) is my favourite subject. I start like any other project, with my ideas gradually becoming more contemporary and sometimes more graphic on canvas, and it’s here that I free myself from the obligation of the initial idea so that the painting can determine its own destiny.
Could you walk us through your creative process when developing the artwork for this exhibition?
I think you will find the answer in the question above. Sometimes I think I am a painter with a realistic technique, and my thoughts become abstract while working. Some may think I know exactly what the result of the painting will be from the beginning, but no, I change the colours again and again, I change the subject, and sometimes I set a painting aside for a few years so that it tells me what to do with it.
Your art is known for its rich symbolism. Can you elaborate on the choice of symbols in this collection, such as flowers, meat, and blood?
In Iran, we have an expression: when someone suffers a lot, someone is in love but doesn’t achieve their love, or someone loses a loved one, we say “My heart has bled”. My women have become braver than they were years ago; they’ve made wine from their bleeding hearts and drunk it, but they don’t bow down. But the flower in Rococo style, with its pink and green-blue palette, is considered one of the main symbols in the history of art, with painters symbolising death and ephemeral life, and in this period of my work, it’s more or less the same thing. Drawing femininity, beauty, innocence, and sometimes the predator, or whatever you think of it, I accept.
The themes of womanhood and the juxtaposition of vulnerability and audacity are mentioned. How do these themes manifest in your art, and why are they significant to you?
First of all, I have never sought the label of a feminist painter, and I am not one, but I definitely have feminist thoughts. My women have been damaged, but vulnerability means something else. And in my opinion, this is the least feminist question possible. When we see a portrait of a woman in a painting, we immediately associate it with women’s issues and problems, meaning we always believe that we should be separated from men and that we don’t have the same rights.
The rococo-inspired colour palette is highlighted in your latest works. How does this choice contribute to the overall impact and message of the exhibition?
The aristocracy of glory, of the banquet, in which I tried to include the predatory part of human nature and ultimately nothingness and death in sentimental colours and symbols. Of course, the compositions are contemporary, and the faces are frontal; of course, I didn’t have much room in a small exhibition, and I hope to continue in the future with larger paintings.
How has your recent immersion in the artistic milieu of Paris influenced your artistic expression and the vitality of your work?
I’ve been immersed in Paris for many years; even when I’m in my working studio in Teheran, the symbols of twentieth-century Paris are clearly visible in my work. Of course, I never deliberately borrow an image of Paris to draw a concept, but the music, my travels, and the nostalgic atmosphere that’s ingrained in me help to create these images or the women’s make-up. Of course, I must add that I’m a fan of fashion as a serious art form, of which old Paris was the cradle.
The exhibition is described as a commentary on the contemporary status of women worldwide. Can you share more about the messages you aim to convey through your art in this context?
Thank you for your opinion. With age, you understand what women’s problems mean! And not before, when you’re young and have fewer responsibilities. And these problems are much more serious than the words or advertisements that circulate. If, on seeing my work, even one woman doesn’t lose her pride under pressure and goes on her way, that means I’ve succeeded in my art.
How do you see your work bridging the gap between your Persian roots and the cosmopolitan influences you’ve experienced?
I don’t feel a cultural gap for me, except for the envy I feel due to the availability of facilities and working tools, the artist’s access to professional galleries, or living in an artistic environment and presenting works without government censorship, because my style is not limited to one place. I
have shaped my world since I was a child with books, cartoons, and later through the Internet and travel. I think this question should gradually be removed. Only an artist who has decided to work on social and political issues can speak about the gap between countries or any issues in today’s world. Social, political, or any other subjects that represent their art, and of course, it’s respectable, but Western countries expect too much from the Oriental artist to be in the role of a “victim,” and it has become a bit boring.
The red-lipped proclamation of “Bon Appétit” carries a complex interplay of invitation and provocation. Can you delve into the emotions and intentions behind this proclamation?
This time, I am talking about a woman who is attractive, selective, and dangerous; she no longer has a heart to lose (the symbol of feelings, for which a man considers the woman a weak being).
How do you hope viewers will respond to the daring invitation to engage with the visceral experience of your art?
I don’t understand your question. I try to put myself in the audience’s shoes, and if I feel pleasure, I think I have done my job well.
In your art, flowers, meat, and blood are described as potent metaphors. What do these symbols represent, and how do they contribute to the overall narrative of the exhibition?
I have explained it in the above answers. And as a surrealist painter, I think too much homonymy and decoding harm the work.
Can you elaborate on the use of symbolism to convey the ephemeral nature of life and the profound nature of humanity?
No, I am a painter, and I leave the comments on my drawings to art critics. I insist that one should not try to decipher a work too much.
The exhibition is described as a transformative experience. How do you hope this collection will impact art collectors and connoisseurs?
I am satisfied if that’s the case. Like any other artist, people’s opinions interest me greatly.
As an artist, how do you see yourself pushing artistic boundaries through “Bon Appétit,” and what message do you want to convey to your audience?
“Bon appétit” is the continuation of my worldview and my view of a proud man, his ambitions, dreams, struggles, and ultimately his victory or death. With the same subjects, I had an exhibition called “Chef Offer” in Italy a few years ago, but today, with more colours and in the same gallery in 2023, I still have many other ideas on the same subject in my sketchbook.
With the opening reception approaching, what are your feelings and expectations about sharing your work with the audience in person?
In opening events, people have different reactions, but their amazement pleases me. I see more reactions in front of my large paintings, but in Europe, galleries are often small, and as a result, it’s difficult to exhibit large paintings.
Relationship with Dorothy Circus Gallery and Alexandra Mazzanti, the owner – did you previously know the owner? What convinced you to liaise with them? Was the gallery’s prestigious international program and strong positioning of the gallery in supporting female artists that interested you, or was there more?
Every woman who runs a business independently in this predominantly male world deserves a lot of consideration, and Alexandra Mazzanti is one of these women. Madame Mazzanti first saw my works in 2012 on the Internet, and it was the first European gallery that offered me a solo exhibition. The Dorothy Circus Gallery features Pop surrealist artists and has been successful in their presentations. My works may have less fantasy compared to pop surrealism but can be part of that category, and to this day, we have continued our collaboration.