Maryam Mobasseri on Process & Growing up in Iran

Oui.Gallery Interviews Maryam Mobasseri from Hong Kong.

Introduction of the artist

Maryam Mobasseri (Nooshin Sawyer) was born in 1977, one year before the Islamic revolution of Iran, in Tehran. Her passion for painting was discovered at a very early age. Growing up in Iran during the Iran- Iraq war and being constantly confronted by the ongoing effects of the revolution helped her to find the best way to express her feelings through art. To pursue her lifelong dream to be a painter she quit studying nursing in 1999 and soon after started studying art at Honar University (Art) of Tehran. After completing her master degree in art, she moved to Malaysia and later Hong Kong which exposed her to different cultures. Hong Kong and its diversity has played a very significant role in the development of her artistic style.

In this interview, Sarah Zhang interviews Maryam Mobasseri about her life growing up in Iran and how that compares to Hong Kong, where she now lives and makes her artwork.

Maryam Mobasseri, Dreamland, 2016. 74.5cm x 55cm, Mixed media on laser cut wood panel.
Maryam Mobasseri, Dreamland, 2016. 74.5cm x 55cm, Mixed media on laser cut wood panel.

Which of your artworks are you most proud?

It is nice of you to say that, but I think some of them are okay pieces. I really like the work I made in 2018 which it is called “Dir Omadi”. In English it means that “you came back to me (looking for me) too late”.

Because I used a lot of elements and figures which are very personal and important for me in creating this piece. Or rather to say my favorite characters and figures have been gathered in this artwork, I consider it so far the best one.

Maryam Mobasseri, Free Nargess, 2017. 29cm x 41cm, Mixed media on archival paper.
Maryam Mobasseri, Free Nargess, 2017. 29cm x 41cm, Mixed media on archival paper.

How would you describe your artistic outlook on life? And how do you incorporate it into your works?

I am just an artist who is constantly making art. Often the case is even I don’t think ahead about the piece of art I am going to create. I just start from scratch. Usually I don’t sketch. I think the best ideas come first. Sometimes things don’t need to have a deep meaning. I like to create patterns and forms in my art. Recently I am in love with cancer cells. It is fascinating to look at the images of them. Amazing to see such a beautiful cell can be so ugly in reality.

Some works you created have been inspired by your first-hand experiences of the Iran-Iraq War and the Iranian revolution growing up. Could you talk more about how that was like, and how your artworks express those experiences?

I was born one year before the Islamic revolution. Don’t have any memory of The Shah’s era. All I can recall from that time is via video tapes or family’s memories. But I have some memories related to The War between Iran and Iraq. Like every other Iranian at my age or older, I have been affected by the war. We all have some unforgettable memories of being in Iran that time. Fortunately, I wasn’t from the area or cities which got affected directly by Iraqis. I was born and grew up in Tehran which was so far from the War zone. Surely, people in the west, especially those near the border, were who suffered the most.

About the Islamic regime, The story is totally different from the War. Most people around me have their own unique experiences regarding the Islamic government. The state of human rights in this regime always draws attention of all activists and Iranian inside and outside of Iran. This is one of the main themes in my art work.

When the war happened, I was just a kid and got a bit excited over hearing the siren (missile attacks and bombing) during day time at school, as it just meant for us kind of unexpected recess time unless we could hear the explosion or Iraqi airplanes which the story would be different. All would be panicked. Similar to the night times, it didn’t sound much fun anymore. It brought fear and horror to us maybe I could remember all the horror stories or scary myths about dying right after hearing the bombing and explosions nearby. When I got older the War became more series than before.

We were bombing from inside the country with bad news such as hearing about the executions of anti-regime prisoners and activists, or all the national Islamic movements and anti Islamic Republic movements, or the news about assassinations that happened by the oppositions. The TV programs just mirrored common Islamic beliefs and respected the revolutionary ideas that were approved by the regime. The Media were so suppressed and over control by the government. I can’t recall hearing any cheering music from that time. All the writers, intellectuals inside Iran either they were in prison or being executed or didn’t have permit to work(write) despite some could leave Iran before getting too late. Many books were forbidden to read even finding someone having them has been considered a crime.

I went to Evin prison once a month, for visiting my uncle and my aunties. Beside life experiences that we all are facing in our life, finally, this made me who I am now. I can’t make it separate from my daily life. It is impossible to just put a cross line on it. I have to say that many times I tried to create my artwork without thinking about dark events. But it seems for me is a hardship not referring to them.

When I was a university student in Iran I was fortunate to see the student’s movement as well. Overall, growing up in Iran for me gave me a great opportunity to shape myself, learn to rethink, don’t be so judgmental and always try to practice being liberal, which I’m still trying to make happen. I would live the same life if I have a second chance. I am fortunate for being in Iran at that time and living there until 2009.

Why do you often tend to express themes such as birth, death and conflict in your artworks in such a colourful and abstract way?

As the beautiful life doesn’t always show us its gorgeous side. I try to show the ugly face of life with the beauty of color and patterns. After all I love living. Life is beautiful.

Maryam Mobasseri, Life Cycle 2, 2019. 76cm x 59cm, Mixed media on laser cut wood panel.
Maryam Mobasseri, Life Cycle 2, 2019. 76cm x 59cm, Mixed media on laser cut wood panel.

There are many female characters in your artworks. Is it somehow a way to express your own gender identity? Tell us more about the significance of those women in your artworks.

Actually, it is not true. I have many male characters in my paintings as well. Maybe you noticed females more because of my gender.

Your Dream Land series is very intriguing and utopian. What are the inspirations of this series? And how is the creative process reflected in your work as a whole?

It was a dream I had. The same figures with black holes as the eyes. It was about my friend who passed away after battling cancer when she was just 30. In my dream, she had black eyes floating on the sea gracefully. She was living that way in my dream.

Maryam Mobasseri, Life Cycle 3, 2019. 153cm x 120cm, Mixed media on archival paper.
Maryam Mobasseri, Life Cycle 3, 2019. 153cm x 120cm, Mixed media on archival paper.

What attracted you to come work in Hong Kong? Has there been a remarkable difference in your art style since coming here?

I didn’t have any idea about living in Hong Kong before my husband found a job here.

I love it as it is a cosmopolitan city. Once I found myself sitting at the dinner table with a newly married couple from Saudi Arabia, a nice lady from Israel, myself as an Iranian and my America husband. We were sitting peacefully next to each other and enjoying our company fearlessly. It is beauty of Hong Kong.

For sure living in Hong Kong has influenced me as well by exposing me to joyful environment, peace (used to look peaceful), friendly and welcoming to different cultures. All helped me to form my artwork in a way it is now.

As an artist, which word could better define your role in society? A prophet, dissident, intellectual, citizen, or other? And why?

I am just an artist who believes making art is her job. It happens that I am enjoying doing my job. It is not easy, often so challenging but making art is the only thing I feel secure and confident with. But definitely, it is not a hobby for me. I found it offensive for myself when someone consider my work hobby. I take art so seriously.

View Artwork by Maryam Mobasseri

About the gallery

Oui. Gallery is an international gallery founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 2018. Later, Oui opened a new space in Central, Hong Kong. Oui. Gallery is devoted to cooperating with emerging artists and making innovative shows.