“It’s a simultaneous feeling of having and not having”

This month’s IAP Spotlight focuses on Zahra Banyamerian, who has been working and contributing to NYFA Learning and Immigrant Artist Program’s activities for the past year. Natasha Zeta, IAP intern, took the opportunity to interview Zahra about her artwork and recent  experience at The League Residency at Sparkhill, NY.

New York City-based Zahra Banyamerian expresses the elusive territory of an immigrant between lives in her work as a printmaker and a painter. When leaving home, there is not only a physical displacement as friends, families and belongings are given up, but also a psychological one. The social structures that once gave the immigrant an intuitive identity are now absent. The attempt to recreate this sense of self among strangers creates a duplicity between who you once were and who you are becoming. When she left Iran five years ago to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, she created art that became a diary of this change.

“It’s not that [the transition is] sad, it’s just different,” Zahra says. “The sadness you can say is a good sadness…because in some part of their personality, [immigrants] miss something, but at the same time they are achieving something else. It’s a simultaneous feeling of having and not having.”

Zahra focuses on this dualism in her work, making what seems like polar concepts and feelings into one entity. During her time in the Student League of New York’s month-long residency in Sparkill, NY, she created mono-prints with carborundom that presented life and death as existing simultaneously through illustrations of plants, insects, and even family portraits. “As a person in some part of you you feel the death…Death always accompan[ies] life and you see life through death,” Zahra says.  Her work is simultaneously deeply personal and completely detached, painting often domestic, mundane objects surrounded by small, ordinary details–tiled walls, light patterns from an open window, bare trees.  “My paintings in general are about the life I experience…I try to paint [life] through the codes I believe represent the story better, like everyday objects,” she explains. The narrative is never made obvious, but exists as an undercurrent simply because these objects are an intuitive part of our cultural identity, items we take for granted. Her artist statement for the exhibition Rear Mirror provides a few clues on how her subjects are more intimate than they appear: “Front door is a gate to rush to our daily life, to the world we share with our friends and coworkers. There is also a forgotten rear window in back of our houses which is opened to the world we share with strangers that we only experience their windows, sometimes the sounds of their music and their laugh and the smell of their foods. In Rear Mirror, I paint the experience of missing vision of mine.”

Zahra believes that Iran already had a growing and respected art scene, but she is happy she journeyed to New York. Zahra was previously an intern for NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Program (IAP), where she learned how to strengthen her portfolio, edit her resume and, through workshops such as Doctor’s Hours, received advice from curators and other professionals in the art world. The IAP helped her feel part of an international community and helped her improve as an artist. “I’m glad that I came…because now I can see myself in a bigger picture.”

Zahra Banyamerian’s work can be viewed on her website.

This spotlight was featured in Issue No. 71 of the Con Edison Immigrant Artist Newsletter. Are you currently receiving this free newsletter? Sign up to receive the monthly email featuring artist interviews, special reports, and upcoming arts deadlines and professional development resources. 

Image: Zahra Banyamerian, Family Portrait, created at The League Residency at VYT, June 2015.

Amy Aronoff
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