The Orris sat down with painter Roeya Amigh to discuss her work, her Iranian past, and the necessarily fine line between beauty and darkness.
Amigh’s paintings are most centrally about her experience in her home country of Iran. Her paintings are deeply textured and richly colored; a digital screen cannot do justice to the tactile finery of her work. They remind us of the materiality of our lives, our art, and our all too fragile human bodies.
Amigh, who grew up in Iran, moved to the U.S. after earning her bachelors and masters degrees in Tehran. “I wanted to experience a different country, to know about their art.” She began researching art programs and was drawn to Boston University’s MFA program because she wanted to work with the artist John Walker. While she has experimented with installation and other mixed media, Amigh feels she is ultimately a painter. “I can express myself in a painting language more. It’s not just about painting, it’s about life, about what I want from art.”
“In my work, I create a visual illusion of space with an imposed structure of a frame. This process helps me to centralize the figure and helps to emphasize the linear quality of my painting. I consider myself an abstract painter.”
It took her some time to find her perspective while working in the U.S. “When I first got here I was so full of anger. Full of questions. I needed time.” She now values living in the United States particularly because of the opportunity it gives her to look at her country from a distance. “It’s a big opportunity for me to step back from my country and look at my country. I have to stay here and think about my paintings here.”
“For every artist, the most important thing for us is to be able to make art, to make paintings, to be a painter, and have the opportunity to share my work with others. I don’t want to be worried about my subject, my object, about anything. I want to show everything I’m making. There are many sensitive subjects in Iran that I need to be careful about. The society doesn’t accept certain topics and or modes of presentation. One of the reasons why I want to stay here is because I am able to show my subject matter.”
“I really love working with details. You know I’m from Iran, and if you pay attention to Persian art, Persian miniatures, the work is really detailed.” Laid over the painted canvas are small strips of fabric, which, from a distance, add a rich depth to the paint, and, as you notice these details, they draw you ever closer to the canvas.“I want the viewer to come close to my paintings. To look at my paintings.”
Amigh cuts fabric into fine slivers, a process that she finds helps her “travel into the presence of my inner self.” The process of using small pieces of cloth and gluing them onto the canvas helps her create a tactile quality that reinforces the relationship of the painting. “To me cutting fabric in small pieces is a really good response to my anxiety. I am making my world in my paintings.
She uses second hand clothing “because they have the memory of people.” The cutting of the fabric is in part her response to the Hijab in Iran. “I don’t believe in forcing Hijab.I am perfectly okay with religious people who respect Hijab, but I believe imposing it on people who are not willing backfires and causes people to dislike religion. When I start cutting, it is my response against the mandatory Hijab”.
She left Iran exactly two years after the 2009 Iranian election protests. Amigh would sometimes go to “observe the protests, to see what they were doing in the street, what they wanted from the government.” She was on the same street the day Nedā Āghā-Soltān got shot, a young Iranian woman who was also observing the protests. A video of her death went viral, sparking further protests against the Iranian government. Neda has become an iconic figure for the struggle and tragedy the Iranian people continue to face. Amigh was profoundly affected by this event. “She was the same age as me. And always I was thinking, I could have got shot. I didn’t really protest. I was just there to watch the people.” Now, in the U.S., Amigh is working on representing “the moment that Neda got shot. The moment she died. About every second of that. What happened to her body physically. How she experienced death.”
Much of Amigh’s current work deals with themes of mortality and life. She finds this duality inspiring, “You know I always feel there is darkness. In my paintings I really think about darkness and also I think about beauty. Darkness because of my history. Every country has some darkness, it is not just about Iran.”
Though she is moved by the darkness of these tragedies, she is also inspired by “lots of beautiful things,” like the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamloo, from which she borrows the titles of her works.
Though her experience in her home country is often the subject of her work, Amigh is hesitant to speak politically about life in Iran. “I don’t want to be a political person. I want just to be a painter.”
She has found she has two kinds of viewers of her art. “One of them really like my works. The others really hate my work, and can’t understand my works. It’s very interesting to me. I am okay with that. Why should everyone understand your work?”
Her work is currently on display at the Sherman Gallery as part of the “Fresh Impressions” exhibit. The exhibit runs until July 27th.
Roeya Amigh lives and works in Boston, MA. She recently completed her Masters in Fine Arts at Boston University. You can contact her at roya.amigh[at]gmail.com.