Anahita Alavi is an Iranian artist, specilaising in Persian Miniature and islamic Illuminaon. She trained the art of traditional painting under the supervision of a number of great masters in Iran. With an MA in Art studies from University of Tehran and also an MA in History of Art and Architecture of Islamic Middle East from SOAS University of London, she has extensive knowledge of Islamic art, both traditional and contemporary.
In 2016, Anahita started an entrepreneur project called Muqarnas Art sponsored by SOAS. The project was concerned with teaching and producing Persian miniature and illumination, with the aim of preserving the traditional painting skills and transmitting the respective knowledge to students.
We talk to Anahita about her experience as an artist, where she draws inspiration from and how her cultural heritage influences her creativity.
Your works are inspired by Persian miniature and Islamic illumination painting traditions of Iran. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?
Well, Isfahan where I grew up was a city of historical monuments fully decorated with the patterns and paintings mostly from the 17th century. Decorations and ornamentations on buildings always intrigued me since I was very young. Having no idea about the specific motifs, materials and the style, I was surrounded and fascinated by the patterns.
I also recall my dad’s books and catalogues on western painting and I was so fascinated by them. They almost filled my entire childhood. When I was a teen, I knew that I would like to learn painting for sure! Around the age of thirteen, I signed up for a summer course where I could learn painting having no idea about the course content and the style I am going to learn.
Surprisingly, the teacher was a well-known Persian miniature instructor and artist, and that is how I drawn to this delicate style of painting which satisfied my passion for both painting and patterns.
So, after that summer I had to go back to school and stopped taking the Persian miniature course. But during that time I realised that I need some essential and basic skills that every art student needs: learning how to draw! Then, during the school season, I was attending drawing classes.
A few years after, I started my undergraduate program where I learnt traditional art focusing on Persian Miniature and Islamic illumination. And that was the beginning of the formal training in this field of art, for me.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
I was lucky enough to be trained under the supervision of well-established artists and masters in Iran both in and outside the university, from the very beginning. However, after university the most part of my learning process was self-educating through copying the masterpieces. But that has never prevented me from searching for great masters in various stages of my journey, even today.
How has your cultural heritage influenced your creative practice?
Those of intangible cultural heritage, such as oral stories and traditions are like background knowledge for me having a significant role in my creative practice. For example those of skills, techniques and knowledge that I have learnt from my masters who themselves had received them from their previous generation are part of my heritage which I have relied on to build my career. Also, as an artist in the field of traditional art, the material objects like the manuscripts, monuments as well as the written documents and the literature are the main inspiration sources when it comes to creating a new piece of work; I mean they are the reliable references for choosing a subject or story for painting, colour arrangement, composition, etc...
The Song of your Feast is now making the heaven dance
Where do you find inspiration for your colour compositions?
Well, in addition to the basic knowledge of colours and composition in general (for example having the clear understanding of the effect, weight and energy of a single colour and how does it affects the viewers’ eyes when si]ng next to another colour) that every artist has and would use when it comes to the colour scheme, the main source of my inspiration for colour composition is the manuscript paintings and illuminations. A series of rich colour arrangements made from the natural pigments is found in the manuscript paintings that can be an ideal colour reference for an artist. Also, the nature itself where various ranges of colours are artistically combined is an excellent source of inspiration.
The Rite of Spring
You have developed a contemporary twist on this traditonal skill, how did you develop a distinct style?
I am trying to revive the tradition of visual storytelling and through which, by using the technique and style of Persian miniature and Islamic Illumina-on, gradually evolve my unique style. I am still in the middle of my way. As you may know, developing a style is not achievable in a short period of time. One needs to do research, study and practice hard for many years in order to establish a long lasting authentic style.
You also teach, how did you embark on teaching these traditional artistic skills?