ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Shadi Yousefian as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Shadi Yousefian was born in Tehran, Iran in 1978 and moved to the United States when she was sixteen. At a time when she lacked the language skills in English to express herself, she felt drawn to art to express her longing, her vision, and her experiences. She received both her Bachelor’s (2003) and Master’s (2006) of Fine Arts from San Francisco State University. Shadi’s work engages personal and social issues of contemporary life, particularly, cultural identity and the immigrant experience. As an Iranian immigrant, her work reflects and addresses issues that touch on universal themes such as loss, dislocation, alienation, and reinvention. All of Shadi’s work to date reflects the desire to capture and distill some of the essence of her own life as an immigrant, but to also connect it to a more universal experience. Her work suggests and builds upon a kind of fragmentation and dissolution, but also the endeavor to reinvent and reconstruct a self in a new social and cultural context.
In each of the series, Shadi uses techniques that appear to destroy and distort something of the whole—cutting up letters, using only specific features of a photograph, scratching a negative, etc., and reassembles them as parts of a new image that captures both memory as passage of time, and memory as the willful looking again at something anew. This process conveys a mirroring effect of the past and present, articulating both a distortion as well as a reconstruction.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Shadi Yousefian: The main themes that are apparent in most of my work are identity, alienation and the immigrant experience and how it is affected and shaped by memory. Even though the focus of my academic studies was photography, I mostly work with mixed media; photography is just one of the media that I use in my work.
AE: Why has it been important for you to share your personal experiences with immigration and displacement through your work?
SY: Even though, as an artist, I often share my experience on a personal level, as human beings we go through a lot of common experiences and can relate to one another’s personal stories. When I create a work about my own identity and how it is constantly becoming fragmented and re-invented through life experiences, especially migration, naturally a lot of other people with similar experiences of alienation and displacement can make a connection to their own experience as immigrants. This can even go beyond just the immigrant experience and be relevant in any society. Even someone who has not experienced immigration might have had similar experiences of dislocation and loss of identity due to other events and interactions in their lives.
AE: You recently opened your latest solo show entitled Transformation at Advocartsy’s new space in Los Angeles. Can you tell us about the exhibition as a whole and what series are on view? How is this a continuation or a departure from your past work?
SY: The solo show Transformation features the pieces that I’ve created in the past three years, with the exception of three pieces in the Letters series that date back to 2005. None of the pieces have been shown anywhere else before. There are five series included in the show, Fading Memories, Letters, Identity Screening, Memories and Pallid. I can say that, as a whole, this show is a continuation of my past work because it still portrays the unifying theme of memory and fragmentation of identity. Even though the photographic series called Fading Memories employs a very different technique than my Letters, Pallid or other mixed media series, I still wouldn’t call it a departure from my other work since the subject matter is still about fragmentation of memory and identity. In fact, the Fading Memories series is a return to a technique that I had devised to create my Self-portraits series back in 2002.
AE: Can you elaborate on the main medium of collage that you use in your practice? What does collage represent to you?
SY: I use collage in many of my pieces because the process of collage involves fragmenting, destroying, rearranging and reconstructing, which reflect the idea of fragmentation and reinvention of identity. In some series such as Letters, I cut my original letters and paste them directly onto wood panels to create my compositions. In my photographic pieces such as the Fading Memories series I start by cutting and pasting my original negatives from old photo albums and then reconstructing them into negative collages from which I create the final prints.
AE: Are you currently working on any new projects that you can share with us?
SY: I’m currently working on a couple of more pieces to add to the Pallid series. I’m also going on a residency in Mexico to learn traditional Mayan pottery. I’ve proposed to create a wall installation made from hand made Mayan style plates, incorporating old Persian patterns in combination with traditional Mayan patterns into each plate.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
SY: I don’t draw influence from any particular artist but there are artists whose work I really appreciate. I like Joel-Peter Witkin because of his perspective on beauty and pain and his unique approach to the medium of photography. Chiharu Shiota is another artist whose installations are breathtaking to me. I also enjoy the work of minimalist artist Agnes Martin.
SHADI YOUSEFIAN ONLINE: