Artist Spotlight with Setareh Shahbazi Something Always Falls (hands), 2015, Pigmented ink prints on rice paper, framed dimensions, 80 x 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Gypsum Gallery, Cairo

Artist Spotlight with Setareh Shahbazi

Posted: Apr 15, 2022

ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Setareh Shahbazi as part of our Artist Spotlight series.

This Artist Spotlight is presented in association with ArteEast’s Unpacking the ArteArchive program Monuments & Flowers, curated by Regine Basha, which features Marianne Fahmy’s film, What Things May Come.

The Monuments & Flowers program will be available for streaming online in both English and Spanish, from April 29 – May 7. RSVP here.

In partnership with Casa Árabe, theatrical screenings will be presented at Casa Árabe Cordoba (April 27th, 7pm) and at Casa Árabe Madrid (April 28, 7:30pm). For more info on the in person program go to

Setareh Shahbazi studied Scenography, Visual Art and Media Theory at Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design and spent the following years living and working between Beirut, Tehran, Cairo and Berlin, where she is currently based.

Her work has been shown in solo shows at Tarahane Azad, Tehran; Gypsum Gallery, Cairo; 98weeks Project Space, Beirut; Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara; Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg; Montgomery, Berlin and at Karlsruher Kunstverein. 

She has participated in international group shows, including nbk, Berlin; Depo, Istanbul; 17 Essex, NY; Nottingham Contemporary, UK; Sharjah Biennial 13; UAE; Kadist Art Foundation, Paris; Kunsthaus Wien; Beirut Art Center, Lebanon; Asar Gallery, Tehran; Program, Berlin; Kunstverein Frankfurt; Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut; HKW, Berlin; Fondation Cartier, Paris and Rooseum, Malmö.

ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?

Setareh Shahbazi: Most of the time my projects start from a personal experience or story. My own or someone else’s. The stories unfold through observations, conversations and collections of visual material. I always find it difficult to explain how things move on from there on. An ongoing reflection on the constantly changing medium of photography and its fragmented narratives has certainly been the center of many thoughts and decisions, but there is no formula and I cannot name main themes. Works take shape in fluid processes, they change their temporalities and context and morph into new narratives; at some point they develop a visual language of their own.

AE: Can you elaborate on the intersection of montage, digital manipulations, memory and the personal within your photography?

SS: Even though photographs play a big role in my work, I would say that what I do is closer to painting than photography. While spending time with the images or any other kind of visual material, I start transforming their stories. I’ve always been an observer and the many stories in my head Inevitably mix with my experiences and readings. Associative chains of thoughts, memories, conversations overlap with colors and compositions.

AE: What role does narrative and storytelling have with your various series?

SS: Storytelling is all I do. The experience of long term living in different places and contexts and acquiring the ability to change perspectives, languages and ways of living and modes of survival certainly plays an important role in the way I understand and process the themes and narratives in my work.

AE: Can you speak about your recent ongoing and collaborative project Eyes, Come Back! ? What themes do you explore and how do the collaborations take form?

SS: Eyes Come Back! is an ongoing multilayered project that I initiated in fall 2019 through a series of informal gatherings at my studio in Berlin. Built around the specific characteristics of the Trickster – a mythological figure, who appears in varying personifications in tales from around the world – the focus of the project are thoughts on diasporic approaches, change of perspectives through migration, adaptation and des-/integration, transformation, surveillance, resistance, censorship and an urgent need for creative and artistic loopholes and alternatives on the margin of existing systems and societies. The collaborations all stem from intimate conversations with friends, who have lived between places and experienced the double sided thinking that comes with adapting to different contexts and societies. Following a desire to expand our respective experiences and practices, we started with an informal exchange of body parts and capabilities. The process is ongoing and will hopefully find its format within the next couple of months.

AE: Your practice is informed by your personal history. How do you remain connected to the ever-changing landscapes of the places and societies you have lived in?

SS: Through an ongoing exchange with my friends. With our countries of origin, and the places we loved to live in, literally imploding and exploding, falling apart and slowly turning into unlivable places many of my friends live in Berlin by now. 

AE: Do you have any shows or projects upcoming in 2022-2023? 

SS: With the many lessons learned from the pandemic, my focus right now, does not lie in public presentations. I am learning to appreciate the process itself as part of my work. Eyes, Come Back! has been a shapeshifting, many headed creature in the past two years. It is slowly morphing into its own format and language. There will be many ways for this process to manifest. I will let you know as soon as I know.


Website: setarehshahbazicom

Instagram: @setareh__shahbazi