Memory of Flowers: Elham Bayati Celebrates the Power of Persian Women [Interview]
Mixed-media artist Elham Bayati is known for her meticulously layered masterpieces. Born in Tehran, Bayati is inspired by the traditional Persian textiles she remembers from childhood: floral scarves and dresses, worn and hand crafted by her mother and grandmother. With floral patterns as a common thread, Bayati’s work deepens our understanding of the feminine as a source of unseen power in male-dominated societies. “I paint the many flowers that [grow], even though patriarchal society [tries] to cut them,” she says of her work.
Now based in Columbus, OH, Bayati uses a combination of illustration, silkscreen, and textile manipulation to create her work, resulting in a densely layered pastiche of personal memories and cultural fragments. Each collage feels episodic, a loosely imagined narrative that shifts in and out of focus, relaying the forgotten joys and sorrows of Iranian women throughout centuries of oppression. “I visually narrate a thousand years of Persian women’s souls,” she tells NOT REAL ART, “conveying the pressures of hegemonic masculinity and a society which tries to ignore them; I narrate their love, anger, silence, sadness, and happiness.”
If you’re in the area, stop by the Akron Museum of Art in Ohio where Bayati’s work is on display as part of the group exhibition More is More: Visual Richness in Contemporary Art. The exhibition runs through March 27, 2022.
In Today's Q+Art Interview…
Elham Bayati discusses her latest experimental print project, taking advice from Picasso, and why hard work trumps talent every time.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Elham Bayati: There are many books related to the artist's thoughts. Art books about art histories, art philosophy, art stories, artists’ life, poems, favorite authors, childhood books and photo albums that can remind lots of memories.
Which cultural concepts, themes, or philosophies inform your work?
EB: Persian culture, historical Persian tiles, Persian women, life, and nature.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
EB: I would love to invite all of these artists for a colorful Persian dinner at home and talk about the art world: Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, David Hockney, Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol.
What are you trying to express with your art?
EB: My art tries to express what I feel and see about life.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?
EB: There are a lot of advices that I used to write them in my diary notebook but the one that I just remember was from Picasso: “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web.”
The worst one was: be always optimistic.
What's your biggest barrier to being an artist?
EB: There is not any barrier for me to follow my dreams; I can conquer them.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
EB: This balance for me means balance of solitude and sociability. I enjoy working on my art in lovely, quiet music (far from people) that I have at my studio, and walking in nature. Next to that I am in touch with other artists/friends and following art shows.
What does success mean to you as an artist?
EB: Hard work is the main key to success. I met a lot of creative souls but they couldn't amplify their talents because they were not involved in hard work or any consistent explorations. I have seen a lot of successful artists who are well known now just because of hard work.
What role does the artist have in society?
EB: I believe artists keep a mirror up to you, to show the truth of yours, and life. It connects you to the moments, feelings, and realities of life that have been forgotten or ignored.
If you had to pick one, would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist? Why?
EB: I don't want to pick up just one. Being influential or significant in history and being successful commercially is the best and ideal for me. I would like my work to be able to inspire the next generation of artists to come and I would like to be smart enough to manage commercially in my life. Picasso was one of the influential artists in the world that could keep both features.
Have you ever turned down an opportunity? Why?
EB: I don't think I have missed any opportunities yet! I usually welcome all opportunities and I like to achieve experiences and explore more.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
EB: What is better than starting an art project in the world for me? I am always excited and passionate about all projects that I want to start. Now I am working on some experimental printing tests for a new project that gives me a variety of forms and textures.
Through the process of my work, I always explore my real self, and this project assembles all new familiar objects that are full of meaning for me .
What do you do to maintain your mental health?
EB: I always achieve my energy and keep my mental balance with painting, walking, and running in nature, and plants or flowers that I have grown at home.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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