ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Anahita Bagheri as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Anahita Bagheri is an Iranian interdisciplinary artist based in NYC. Her art is about her lived experience and memories as a woman artist in Iran and New York. She gives her own narratives mixed with Persian art, mythology, literature, and culture. Anahita uses a wide range of media in her practice, including video art, performance, sound art, multimedia sculpture, and artist book. She was a participant in AMT Moving Image Festival held annually at Tishman Auditorium. She has had exhibitions at Arsenal Gallery, 25 East Gallery, and Wollman Hall in NYC. She has exhibited in biennials and art fairs, including Bon-gah Art Book Fair, and The 2nd Iran Contemporary Art Biennale, and also in Etemad Gallery, O Gallery, and Soo Contemporary Gallery in Tehran. Anahita is currently an MFA fine arts candidate at Parsons School of Design on full a Presidential Scholarship.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Anahita Bagheri: I am an artist who narrates and I use different media to deliver my narratives. With my work I delve into the intricate interplay of personal and collective through the lens of experience, memory, and identity to challenge and provoke contemplation within my viewers.
I draw inspiration from the rich traditions of Persian miniature painting, mythology, and literature. I am interested in how nature, landscape, and gender are presented in these fields. Regarding nature, I mainly use two styles of Persian painting and design Tazhib and Tashir in my sculptures. They are visible in my sculptures through their floral and twisted forms and in the way that they create a sense of extension and movement into space. Regarding gender, I explore how women are presented in Persian poetry and in miniature paintings. I seek to bridge the past and present, shedding light on the complexities and nuances of being an Iranian woman in history and in today’s society.
My medium revolves around the message I want to convey and as such, I carefully choose it based on what best delivers the message within each project. Sometimes the medium is video, sometimes it’s my body through a performance, and sometimes it’s sculpture or an artist’s book. My whole art practice is performative. My work is constantly changing and evolving from the moment I start my research, to the process of making (sculpting, painting, filming, editing, writing), and finally, up until it is time to share it with the audience.
AE: You often work with paper maché. When did you begin using paper maché and how has your use of this medium evolved within your practice? What is the historical and cultural significance of this medium to your work?
AB: I create large-scale multimedia sculptures that often integrate video. My sculptures are made of paper-maché that are then painted on. I started exploring different techniques of sculpture-making as I completed my BFA in paintings. Paper-maché was the material I found fascinating and that most resonated with me, not only because of the cultural significance it has for me, but also because I loved that paper mache provided me with a base to paint on. I approach the painting on my sculptures as an independent art form, which could stand alone as an abstract painting if removed from the sculpture and put on a canvas. While the painting and sculpture possess their independent artistic significance, their harmonious union creates a third entity. When complemented with video, sound, light, and shadow, they become a totally different multi-sensory experience.
Paper-maché was widely used in Persian lacquer painting in the Safavid era in Iran and this artform further flourished in the Qajar era and was used to make artifacts such as pen boxes, book covers, and mirror cases. Beyond this historical significance, the use of paper-maché in my sculptures carries connotations of challenging gender dynamics and reclaiming artistic expression. This art form was primarily dominated by men. Now, I am an Iranian woman who makes art out of paper-maché in a large-scale format. This act of reclaiming and redefining the medium brings a performative aspect to my sculpture work that not only honors my cultural heritage but also challenges societal stereotypes.
AE: You recently moved to New York from Tehran to pursue an MFA program at Parsons. After completing the first year of your MFA, how has your practice evolved, and what are some continuities within your work?
AB: I came to Parsons with a significant amount of creative research and exhibition experience, and I was awarded the most prestigious merit-based full Presidential Scholarship. It’s interesting that one of my favorite artists, Monir Farmanfarmayan, also studied at Parsons and I ended up in the same institution.
During my first year I took classes in performance and sound design that really moved my practice forward. I have been enjoying making sound pieces for my multimedia sculptures and performances a lot. Moreover, the vibrant environment of New York City, coupled with its diverse art spaces, exhibits, and performance shows, has been an invaluable resource that has fueled me. I spend a lot of time with museum collections and archives; they have been really inspiring for me and my practice.
AE: Videos are also part of your artmaking. Tell us about your approach to making videos and how this digital practice complements or separates from your works made by hand.
AB: My approach to creating videos in my practice is driven by a desire to capture and convey the essence of personal and collective memories. Our visual and auditory memory is ephemeral. Nothing ever persists in our memory the same way it was perceived at the original time of experience. Not only does each person have different perceptions of the same event, but also, one individual would have different experiences of the same event in different situations. That experience changes as time passes and it’s never the same as it was at the time it happened. To me, video is the most precise way of documenting and therefore the closest media to that first-hand experience.
I enjoy the expressive potential of video, whether it is presented as a standalone medium or as it is parted with other media. Video allows me to experiment with different visual techniques and narrative structures, enhancing the impact of my artistic message. As I integrate video and sound with my work, my multimedia sculptures go beyond traditional sculptural boundaries, and my performances become immersive and multi-sensory experiences.
AE: What or who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
AB: I grew up reading Persian classical literature and practicing ancient traditions. I took some years studying the Shahnameh (the Book of the Kings written by Ferdowsi) and the Middle Persian language as I finished high school and continued throughout my undergraduate studies. So Persian culture, literature, art, and artifacts are my great sources of inspiration. The trace of Persian literature and miniature is vivid in one of my video performance work Silver Pond. It is referencing the story of Shirin and Khosrow in Nizami’s book Quintet. In this performance, I embodied and recontextualized the event of Shirin’s bathing in a pond as a classic narrative in relation to the contemporary realities faced by women in the region.
I have found Afsaneh Najmabadi and Ariella Azoulay very inspiring authors. Some artists who have influenced me are Ana Mendieta with her exploration of the body and its connection to nature, Cecilia Vicuña with her poetic and socially conscious practice, and Franz West with his paper-maché artworks.
AE: What are you currently working on, and do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2023-2024?
AB: I’m currently showing three sculptures in the Conjuring Flames exhibition at Arsenal Gallery in NYC curated by Lila Nezamian. Among my featured sculptures is a piece titled The Nightingale complemented by an immersive sound piece.
A little before this exhibition, I presented my latest performance piece, Content Warning at Arnorld Hall. The performance delved into the Woman Life Freedom revolution in Iran and how I resonate with it. Throughout the performance, I recited a poem that I wrote while drawing connections to the accompanying video as a reference to collectively engage in the narrative with the audience. As I finished with that performance, I started another project which challenges deeply entrenched gender norms and seeks to shed light on the historical oppression and enduring restrictions imposed upon women, specifically in relation to their bodies and access to education throughout history. This project consists of a performance with a series of large-scale paper mache sculptures inspired by the Persian lacquer pen boxes I saw at the Met Museum. The venue will be the Met staircases!
ANAHITA BAGHERI ONLINE: