ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hadieh Shafie as part of our Artist Spotlight.
Hadieh Shafie is a visual artist based in New York. Her work collapses the space between drawing, painting and sculpture and is at once process-oriented and overwhelming in its intricacy. Shafie’s work is in the following public collections: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Victoria and Albert Museum; Bank of America, Corporation Collection; Art in Embassies, Public Collection Dubai, UAE; The Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia; Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Nebraska; The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, Winter Park, FL; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); The British Museum and The Brooklyn Museum of Art. Shafie holds an MFA in imaging and digital arts from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and an MFA in painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Shafie has been the recipient of grants from the Kress Foundation, RTKL and MSAC Individual Artist Grant (2010 and 2008) and the Mary Sawyers Baker awards from the William G. Baker Jr. Memorial Fund (2009) and Franz and Virginia Bader Fund (2011). Her work was shortlisted for the Jameel Prize (2011). She was an awardee of the 2012 Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program. Most recently, Hadieh Shafie was nominated for the Anonymous Was a Woman Award in 2017.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Hadieh Shafie: For a long time now I have been working with paper. I draw, roll, cut and fold paper to create high and low relief works. I intuitively arrived at my practice starting years ago by leaving handwritten notes on pages of paper for people to discover, like inside books in libraries and bookstores or cracks in the wall, floors, or furniture. That practice came out of my own experience of finding notes and letters in used books and objects. Sometime in the late ’90s, I started to merge my circular text drawings into the papers that I folded and soon I started to roll them into holes in walls and furniture. I was fascinated by the idea of concealment and the potential for discovering a secret or a wish. I recently found a love letter in a book I bought in a used book shop, and every time this happens it reaffirms my fascination with what is hidden and then revealed. Still, every time I am working in the studio I ask myself what is the enigma inherent in my work. For the last 27 years, I have pushed the form of my work back and forth between drawing on paper and forming works with paper, by rolling strips of paper, stacking strips of paper, and spiking strips of rolled paper. Thinking always of the strips as pages. Pages marked with printed and handwritten text in Farsi. Focusing only on one word, “eshgh”. Eshgh means annihilation and exultation for me. Eshgh means passion, pain, loss, life and death. I draw and paint it on paper that is then folded, stacked or rolled and spiked, holding the text inside hidden. I ask myself all the time, why are you doing this? I know and don’t know and that is the attraction.
AE: What role does material play in your practice?
HS: Paper is central to my practice, and it is what my work consists of. I came to this practice very intuitively, following one idea and exploration to the next level, and before I knew it a whole world of experimentation had unfolded in front of me. The coiling of my hand-painted papers allows me to explore not only forms but also color formations.
AE: What and who are some of your influences?
HS: I get very emotionally influenced by the music that I listen to and books that I read. The feelings and emotions evoked in me lead my visual explorations of color and form. Most recently, reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past has had a deep impact on my thoughts around the passage of time, memory and eshgh.
AE: What are you working on in the studio right now?
HS: Right now I am continuing with my paper-based scroll works focusing on the Saayeha (Shadow) series and the Spike series. I have also started an entirely new series of drawings on paper that come directly out of this time in isolation.
AE: Since 2019 you have been at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) as the McMillan Stewart Endowed Chair In Painting. Can you speak about your experience teaching, both pre- and post-Covid? Has the act of teaching and conversing with students taught you something in turn or influenced any aspects of your practice?
HS: It is always exciting to work with young artists. Sometimes you get to see an artist discover a new approach to making work. A lot of the work with students is listening to them and then looking at their work in the studio and asking a lot of questions. My role over the course of the last two years has been more as a visitor. It is their full-time faculty who have the longer and deeper engagement, as their time with the students is greater. Pre-Covid, I would travel from NY to Baltimore city where MICA is located. Post-Covid, everything happens online. While discussions around work remain rich, I miss the physicality of being in the students’ studios. You get so much information and a sense of who the artist is when you are in their workspace.
Teaching and mentorship help to remind me of the importance of searching. This is a rewarding influence on my own practice. To practice what you advise.
AE: What are some of the struggles you’ve each faced within your career and practice?
HS: One of the main challenges for me is to address the need to expand my studio. I am working on a plan to help me best use my time in the studio so that I can produce more of my ideas and meet the interest there is in showcasing my works. Along the way, the challenges are always the same. How to fund projects, how to remain creative, how to continue to have my own hands in the making of the work, and what changes over time is the intensity of these challenges.
AE: How have you been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic? Have you adjusted your practice to the new realities of self-isolation?
HS: In March 2020, I lost my loft due to gentrification and so I was forced to move out of Brooklyn, where I have lived on and off since 1993. I had to move very quickly in the midst of a raging pandemic. It was all very traumatizing. The shutdowns canceled my travel plans, shows and events and so, like everyone else, I found myself spending time in solitude. I spend my days reading, making work, cooking, getting online for meetings, but I also added long walks to my daily life. I discovered a park in my new neighborhood of Flushing, Queens and I found a renewed interest in nature. I have been photographing what I see and discover on these walks, and now my observations are finding their way into my work with surprising and exciting new results.
AE: Once the global pandemic subsides, do you have any shows or projects coming up?
HS: I do. My work will be included in She Says: Women, Words, and Power in Art at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia, that runs from exhibition July 2 to October 17, 2021, and Bendigo Art Gallery SOUL FURY from 7 August 2021 to 24 October 2021. I have an upcoming solo exhibition that with Yavuz Gallery Singapore/Australia in their Sydney space which opens in February of 2022.
HADIEH SHAFIE ONLINE: