Rolled Canvases series, 2010 by Shaqayeq Arabi

Shaqayeq Arabi is a painter, sculptor and installation artist with a career spanning over two decades.

Born in Tehran, she  studied graphic design at Al Zahra University, eventually moving to Paris, where she earned her MFA at the Sorbonne.

Today Arabi has a studio in Dubai where she lives and works.

Widely exhibited, Arabi has shown at the Aun Gallery, Tehran, XVA Gallery, Dubai, Golestan Gallery, Tehran, Total Arts Gallery, Dubai and in the Sculpture Biennial, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tehran.

She explains her practice as a “form of spontaneous personal expression, an inward journey,” and a record of her “feelings and emotions.” (Which is ultimately a response to her surroundings and memories.)

Whether it is surprising Dubai by collaborating with her husband, Dariush Zandi and transforming the notorious fire in the Al Qoz industrial and arts district of 2008 into one of the most popular exhibitions of 2009, Scraps, which was filled with installations of charred objects, transformed into biomorphic sculptures from the heat of the fire, or experimenting with new  painting techniques that meld sculptures out of painted canvases in her Rolled Canvas series, Arabi is an artist whose practice is not defined by market pressures or conforming to preconceived notions of what Iranian art ought to look like.

Taking a moment to catch up with Arabi in Dubai, I spoke with her about her practice, inspirations and evolution as an artist.


PEM: What inspires your artistic practice and how has it evolved?
SA: Everything that is happening around me, and more generally, everything that is happening in the world-the anxiety and fears, destruction, disasters, losing loved ones, losing ethics and beliefs This emotional rapport with the world could happen on the canvas by layers of paint, in construction/ destruction of collected objects, or through the viewfinder of my camera.

PEM: Your work, whether it be painting, installation or sculpture, tends to be conceptual, yet aesthetically abstract and experimental. Unlike many artists of Iranian heritage, one wouldn’t look at your work and immediately be able to say ‘this is by an Iranian.’  Is this a conscious intention and how, if at all, does your cultural heritage come into play with your practice?
SA: Cultural heritage, whether like it or not, is deep within all of us, what varies is its manifestation and how it materializes in our life. The very direct and often shallow representation of cultural identity in a work of art is not engaging for me, it’s too raw.  Being Iranian and having lived there means a practice in a multifaceted society that is transforming and crushing its own memory. [This] also means experiencing chaos and misplacement after a revolution, implemented by war and the post-war anarchy, tormented by a loss of values and beliefs, enforced by the ideological and political slogans, scared of insecurity, affected by the violence and control. All of these raised my sensibility to appreciate life. To locate these references in my work one has to look from a wider perspective, my issues are reflective of the issues of a contemporary person with regional sensibilities. My intention is definitely not to fall prey to the prescription of success and market forces.

PEM: Do you create work with a conscious end result in mind or is your practice more of an organic, free-flowing experience?
SA: Absolutely organic, I enjoy journeys with no determined destination. I leave the idea to evolve to find its own shape and form, and the process to refine the concept and I’m part of the evolution. Like a jigsaw puzzle, I experiment and endeavor to have everything in the right place except that there is no model to follow, which makes it more challenging and enjoyable, and then [there is] the magic moment when I feel that’s it……..

PEM: How do you identify yourself? Are you an Iranian artist first or an artist who is Iranian?
SA: An artist who is Iranian. In fact I’m very comfortable with the nationality and identity issues. As much as I identify myself as an Iranian and I’m proud of my culture and ethnicity at the same time I see myself as a citizen of the world and I feel close to other cultures and beliefs.