By Tara Biglari
Azita Moradkhani is an Iranian-born artist whose work draws inspiration from the great art of the past. She recently won the Young Masters Art Prize – awarded by the London-based Cynthia Corbett Gallery to contemporary artists who are inspired by Old Masters.
Azita’s art tastefully fuses elements of Western art, Iranian identity and modern life. She currently has a striking series on display in a group exhibition at the Royal Over-Seas League in St James’s, London (ending September 8). It’s called “Victorious Secrets” and her art is embedded in old-fashioned lingerie.
Kayhan Life caught up with Azita for a conversation about her work.
Where did you grow up, and what is your relationship with Iran?
I was born and raised in Tehran, and from childhood I was surrounded by beautiful, delicate Persian carpets and colorful textile designs in everything from my grandma’s dress to the curtains on the wall. I was also impressed by Persian miniatures, with their colorful details and the art of storytelling through images. And of course having a father who is an artist himself was a huge inspiration for me through[out] my life. I will definitely go back and forth to Iran to visit my family. I would love to experience art residencies in Iran, and possibly teach art in the future – have exhibitions there and be in touch with artists.
When and how did you decide to become an artist?
It’s a very difficult question for me, because there is a point at which you question [yourself] and have doubts and ask yourself ‘why’ and ‘how.’ These questions have continued from my childhood until now. As my father was an artist, I always did drawing and made art on his easel and with a big canvas of paint. Even now that I’m 30, I’m [asking] myself how I can have more impact on the world through the process of making art, through what I have a lot of passion [for].
Your most recent series, ‘Victorious Secrets,’ has as its base drawings of old-fashioned female undergarments. Can you explain why? Isn’t it an unexpected choice of subject coming from a young woman with Iranian origins?
The female body is central to my work – especially exposure to different social norms.
A series of recent drawings is based on my first impression of walking into a Victoria’s Secret store in the U.S. I was surprised to see such a large lingerie store in public, and it made me think about how these stores are such private, secret spaces in Iran. These drawings of lingerie emphasize the connection and tensions between sexual representation and national identity – between private and public.
My drawings of intimate lingerie, ‘Victorious Secrets,’ on paper and in color pencil, explore connected narratives of pain and pleasure through repeated abstract patterns and images based on photojournalism and iconography. I use an aesthetic of pleasure to shift the viewer’s focus to possibility, to hope. Yet when the viewer looks more closely at the lines that make up the drawing in the interior space of the panties, they are brought face to face with shadowy images of violence that signify the vulnerability of victims. The images intertwine in abstract patterns, traumas that repeat themselves.
Has the Young Masters Prize been helpful to you?
It has been an honor for me, and I’m very grateful for that. [In terms of] sales of my work, I have seen much more interest recently. I have been hearing about different collectors more, both in Boston and other cities.
How is your work inspired by art history?
I’m interested in returning beauty and realism to the world of contemporary art. But aesthetic pleasure is not enough. There has to be a conceptual dimension as well, and I want to challenge viewers to recognize the significance of both of these and how they work together.
Many themes from Old Masters’ work emerge in my work. For example, in one of my drawings, I used the nearly touching hands [in the “Creation of Adam“,] the iconic image by Michelangelo [in the Sistine Chapel]. I challenge the story of Adam’s creation as an idealized representation of the physical birth of men. My piece points out the power of women’s bodies to give birth to humankind, even as we [women] are limited in our power to make decisions about our own bodies.
What are your next projects?
One of the projects I’m working on is at the printing workshop: the possibility of transferring drawings onto the actual fabric of the lingerie. Let’s see how it works.
And I’m working on my body casts too. It’s a mix of the patterns of lacy and luxury lingerie on the bodies with images from different resources. It’s like a tattooing of history and memory on the body for me, and it’s all colored pencil on paper clay – meaning a clay based on paper. But let’s see!