Yosra Emamizadeh started drawing from a young age while growing up in Tehran, Iran. After completing her studies at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, she attended the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, and later earned her Master’s degree in Museum Studies from Harvard University. Yosra is based in Dubai and also produces her podcast Tavān Studio In Conversation where she interviews female artists and makers from the MENASA region about their art and creative lives.
We talk to Yosra about how heritage, identity and faith are reflected in her work, the inclusion of women in the arts more widely and her thoughts on the future of Islamic art.
You started drawing from a young age while growing up in Tehran, Iran. Can you share your earliest memory of art?
One of the most significant memories I have is attending art class with my friends. My teacher’s studio was in her house and always full of beautiful fresh flowers and plants. After hours of drawing we would sit together and flip through her art books while sipping tea. I think that supportive and enriching environment has really impacted me and my work.
How is your heritage, identity and faith reflected in your art?
Sometimes recognizable elements are included in my work, such as sacred geometry, or the topic is very spiritually apparent. However, I think that my faith, more so than my heritage, is deeply integrated in my work. So, for example even when I paint still life, the essence of the work comes back to a relationship with the self and the world around us, which is inseparable from my spirituality.
You completed your studies at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, she attended the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, and later earned your Masters degree in Museum Studies from Harvard University. How has your academic background shaped your creative practice?
That is an interesting question because I have studied various things. I earned my bachelors in business and minored in art history. I then went to study classical drawing at the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, and later earned my masters degree in Museum Studies. I don’t believe that any kind of academic study is a waste, but I do believe that the more I strayed from actually creating art the more apparent it became to me that that is what I actually was called to do. I’m sure my business degree has helped me or will help me at some point. I strongly believe that in order to know what you want to do, you also need to figure out what you don’t want to do; and that comes with experience.
You have a podcast Tavān Studio In Conversation where you interviews female artists and makers from the MENASA region about their art and creative lives. Do you think more needs to be done to increase the visibility and inclusion of women in arts?
I think a lot of work needs to be done in order to reach a point where we don’t need to focus on the fact that this work is by a woman artist who is from the MENASA region. I feel like too much attention is given to that and we become interesting in the art world because of our gender in relation to where we are from and all the politics that comes along with it. My collection of episodes now are specifically with female artists in the MENASA region, but my approach is to interview them as artists and not make it about them being women or from this region. It’s just to have our stories collected and shared.
Which is your favourite work you have created to date and why?
I think one of the pieces I am most proud about is the work I made for the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival at the Sharjah Art Museum in the UAE. When I had applied to the open call they liked my concept but wanted me to go bigger. I had three walls to fill and this encouraged me to really go big. I had previously done a much smaller version of the same work, but always wished I could create a sky that would fill a room and this was my chance.
What is the most memorable reaction you have had to your work?
Hmmm… one that comes to mind is when I was about 15 years old. My family and I were traveling and I was looking around the house we were staying at, trying to find something interesting to draw. My mom had brought a block printed traditional Persian table cloth and draped it over a small side table. I decided to draw it as is, without the table, so essentially it became a drawing of a piece of fabric with an intricate design suspended in air. I remember showing it to my teacher when I got back, almost embarrassed at how awkward it looked. My teacher looked at it and then looked at me and said it was great. I then did a series of fabrics like that, draped and folded, and suspended in space. Fast-forward to the present and I’m starting to do that again in my work.
Can you tell us about any projects you are working on?
I am currently working on a series of still life drawings. I am studying the shapes, textures, and the relationship the objects have with their surroundings, thinking about space, time, and ephemerality.
What does the future of Islamic art look like to you?
I am interested in seeing how the term Islamic Art will evolve. I think the Islamic Art that we have cultivated is very important but I’m very curious as to see how it will grow and be projected in works in a more conceptual way.
For more information follow Yosra Emamizadeh on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/yosraemamizadeh/?utm_source=ig_embed&ig_rid=0e5e46bf-7455-407e-a4f3-707df6d17da7&ig_mid=96196F02-D8DC-40D4-9226-952A48A3E86F
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