ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Fatemeh Kazemi as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Fatemeh Kazemi (b. 1992, Tehran) is a Tehran-based multidisciplinary artist merging various interests through a number of projects and creative pursuits. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Painting from the University of Tehran.
She co-runs Rosva Magazine, a digital platform that focuses on varying subcultures in the Middle East. In Fall 2021, Kazemi will begin a Masters in Fine Arts at Syracuse University in New York.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Fatemeh Kazemi: I see my practice as very interdisciplinary. The most important part of my work is formed by narratives and my collaborations with other people to create various dialogues. If I look at the process of my work, narratives are the most important part. The way that I treat these narratives is more as source material rather than a source of inspiration and the themes that emerge from looking at sub-narratives make up the core of my practice. Whether an archival image, a sentence, or even an archival video and audio; these can all become source materials for my practice. I do not edit or alter these source materials, so these pieces retain their own narratives independent from the context of my works. However, in addition to this, by placing all these sources alongside one another, I create new dynamic narratives and collective conversations. I would say that the themes I choose are very simple, such as ceremonies that bring us together in a lived experience, or even the rituals surrounding food.
AE: You recently presented your work in an exhibition at the independent art publisher, Bon-gah’s space in Tehran. Can you tell us more about your installation there?
FK: Last year, through The II Platform my zine cotton balls and sweet dreams was displayed in the Matbou-e- Bon-gah show. After that, the book and a few others were selected by artist Parviz Tanavoli to be exhibited for a second time, and I decided to develop my booklet into an installation. Flags are very interesting to me as a medium and I used a flag as the main object on view in one of my previous installations.
This piece consists of a two-sided flag: one side of it is made of printed velvet and on the other side a printed text reads in Persian:
!مرا دوباره به آن روزهای خوب ببر، و رها کن و بر گرد، من نمی آیم (Take me back to those good days, set free and go back, I will not come!)
The flag/curtain makes sense next to the book cotton balls and sweet dreams because it was created as an extension alongside the small plastic packages that are placed next to the zine copy on display. Inside the packages are sugar cubes in the shape of a heart and this imagery is repeated throughout the publication. The book itself is filled with archival images that I have collected and set alongside each other. Some of the images are personal photographs and experiences, while others were used with permission from their original sources. All these elements make up the installation as a whole.
In the text I wrote for the zine, I include this short statement about the work:
The publication explores my intimate childhood memories from the perspective of a shattered dream. The photos are a selection of images which I collected on my phone and from family photo albums. These images remind me of family, forbidden loves, inedible things, a stranger’s touch and stories with a hint of a scent.
AE: Can you discuss the process behind the making of your work?
FK: There are a few aspects behind the process of making my work: the collaborative and the virtual. My first collaboration was three years ago with Zehra Nazli, a Turkish artist whom I had the chance to meet and work with in Iran. Collective practice was initially a difficult process to work through since I had just graduated from my fine arts degree and I saw myself as an individual artist. The act of working and thinking collaboratively, of not being afraid of what will come out of this co-working, or whom its viewers will be, were major questions and fears that occupied my mind at that preliminary stage in time. Now, however, I don’t even think about these things, these issues have become part of my practice.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, with virtual platforms finding major prominence as a form of communication, I wanted to fully explore the limits of social media as a form of self expression. I started working on a set of arrangements with the intention to change the atmosphere and to show simple emotions through working with objects, which I called “therapeutic creating.” These took form in different chapters on Instagram Live. The first Instagram Live chapter Tears Free, consisted of three parts and I produced this performance in collaboration with The II Platform. These live sessions were a window into my studio practice and process. It was an attempt to try and understand the state of mind at that time with a specific theme that I explored through my lived experience and the cultural imagery that I have been collecting. I see these collected images and narratives as my own visual language, with which I have had the opportunity to create new territories.
It was during the time I was making various online connections that I met Yasmina Hashemi, an independent curator based in Canada. In conversation about our mutual interests, we decided to work together on a platform that centers around varying subcultures in the Middle East, with a specific focus on Iran. Rosva Magazine was created with this intent, both as a platform to curate other artists and to produce, experiment and exhibit our own work.
I was interested in further exploring the relationship of mourning that is present in my personal relationship with my father. More generally, the sense of mourning that is culturally present when considering the “death of masculinity.” For one week on Rosva Magazine, I used the platform as a space of exploration and curation to examine the ritualization of the concept of mourning in Iran. In this time, I introduced eight Iranian artists who make work in different parts of the world exploring this concept.
Ultimately, one of the most important things in my practice is conversation, speaking with various creatives, seeing and listening to what others are doing and spending time browsing the internet for imagery and visuals. The internet has become a sort of escape for people to see, share and create; people are constantly pushing the boundaries of these digital borders. This is fascinating to me and I, too, play this game since I see it as an extension of artistic traditions, or art that is very close to life. If I look at works that I made over the past few years, they are very connected to these ideas and themes.
AE: What influence have social media and other online spaces had on your practice?
FK: As I mentioned in my previous answer, social media is part of the core of my practice. I am active everyday on my personal instagram account, @afimoh___, where I choose a theme and post related imagery, videos and other visuals. My focus on this practice became much more focused during the pandemic. For me this is separate from the kind of personal promotional work artists and others use social media for. I use social media as an output of my practice, where there are different viewers. Recreating this world outside of the bounds of social media or creating an installation based on the way visuals are transmitted on social media feeds was a struggle for me. The zine was also a way that I attempted to reconcile this struggle. I returned to installation as another tool to create space in real life, but there could also be other mediums that I use in the future such as video art.
The digital collaborations that I have been working on over the past year with Rosva and The II Platform have also highly influenced my work and have become a part of my practice. I also actively engage in finding other artists, in meeting individuals or influencers online and seeing how they work virtually.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
FK: I am very inspired by artists who have a strong visual language, specifically some Arab artists such as Meriem Bennani, Farah Al Qasimi, Lawrence Abu Hamdan or the kind of effect that the collective practice of Slavs and Tatars have. I appreciate the formal practice of artists who incorporate media, literature and visual culture within their work.
I had not been deeply engaged in critical reading for some time. Recently I joined a reading group where I read and came into deep contact with some artists who have been a source of great inspiration, such as Arthur Jaffa and Fred Moten. Previously, I had known their work but I did not have a deep grasp of their practice. It’s as if I am getting to know their practice on a whole new level and I’m learning so much. The way that Jaffa uses archival video is so powerful because he literally amalgamates them into something complete and whole. The direction I see my work also taking is in using my collected imagery from various subcultures and creating my own language out of them. Ultimately reading about the black experience in the US, learning about the history or black music and the many codes that exist within black culture has been transformative for me and I look forward to continue learning.
AE: Do you have any shows or projects coming up in 2021 and 2022?
FK: Recently my collaborator from Rosva, Yasmina Hashemi, and I exhibited a collective piece at the Ruschman gallery in Chicago, which closed in July 2021. This was a wonderful opportunity because we were approached online to take part in this exhibition.
I received a fellowship from Syracuse University to pursue my MFA and I will be focusing on this next chapter of my practice. I will also be focusing on my business, since my partner and I run a platform called NONIST; where we sell vintage clothing as well as our own sustainable garments and footwear. I have high hopes and big dreams for this brand.
Finally, the Tehran-based independent publishers Bon-Gah will be publishing my zine “Despair and Die” in October/November 2021 for a limited edition of 500 copies. It will also include a text and a QR code which links to a conversation. I am very motivated at the moment about art books and the practice of using artbooks or zines as a medium to convey my work and ideas.
FATEMEH KAZEMI ONLINE: