Marzieh Kaviani is an Iranian artist based in Shiraz. She has a background in biology and always been passionate about art. Along with education, she always had a creative hobby to do. Being fortunate to live in a family where experiencing crafts and working with her hands had always been appreciated, she learned lots of skills.
In 2017 she independently studied Islamic geometric patterns and since then she has developed different traditional crafts and skills. Marzieh is interested in history and philosophy of Persian and Islamic art, alongside the spiritual side of Islamic art and the symbolism and roots of it.
How did you develop an interest in Islamic art? Did you always want to be an artist?
Well, I'm living in Iran, where some of the masterpieces of Islamic heritage exist (as well as Persian heritage and art). So I have been exposed to this form of art from the beginning. I visited many magnificent mosques and palaces and played on beautiful carpets, saw poetry books and Qurans with stunning calligraphy and ornaments. These forms had been common in the environment I grew up in and I had always been interested in them.
I was a curious and energetic kid also interested in working with my hands, so my parents tried to keep me busy by doing crafts. In fact my first teachers were my parents. They both know different crafts and they have been always doing these and tried to teach me as much as they could. I usually say I learned almost all the basic skills needed for doing what I am doing today under age of five.
I learned to "play" with yarn in the form of knitting, crocheting, weaving carpet and embroidery. I learned to sew and use a sewing machine. I learned how to recognise the tools my dad used and how they worked (he let me use a sharp blade to cut papers when I was three…). And of course painting with whatever that was available or making sculpture with the pastes I made. As a kid I always loved to do these activities and wanted to be someone who does these. Now I know that means being an artist. But that golden time didn’t last long. When I started school, everything was against having fun and was for education.
How did you train to become an artist?
Until recently I didn’t have any specific training in art. I studied biology and got a masters in biotechnology, but creating and working with my hands had always been my passion and what really makes me feel better. So around five years ago I let this love that I had which was like a fire hiding under ash to flame and choose this path of art. At the beginning I was doing it as just a hobby and without a teacher or a source to learn from. I guess at that point I could say I was a self-studied artist.
But then with the beginning of lockdowns and the online classes provided by very good teachers, I joined some of the classes and thanks to social media I was connected to a large community of artists from different parts of the world and this was a very huge step for me which gave me the identity as an artist, I can say I gained the confidence to be an artist. By having daily connections with artists and art lovers from all around the world, with various backgrounds and styles I found wonderful friends and learned a lot.
I started to join the online classes of Art of Islamic Pattern (provided by Adam Williamson and Richard Henry and also some guest lecturers) and this connected me to lots of lovely souls and artists from all around the world. Later I joined some courses from PFSTA (The Prince Foundation School of traditional Arts) and also some courses of IDC (Istanbul Design Center). So now I can proudly say I had been trained by some of the best teachers of this field.
Of course there are some skills and techniques that I don't have access to a direct teacher for it and I am an experience lover person, so I try to learn these by trial and error and also using online sources like YouTube or by asking skilled people. For example I learned how to make paints with natural pigments or doing marquetry like this. It is a longer way of learning but has its own advantages.
Where do you find inspiration to create your works?
The ideas usually come while I am working on something and sometimes in dreams or when I remember a memory or see something in my normal daily life. And how to express that idea is sometimes inspired by seeing other artists' works or techniques or what technique that I am learning at that moment.
What materials do you use to create your works?
I use almost whatever I can!! Like many other artists of Islamic Geometric patterns I started with watercolor painting and these days I am more concentrated on doing marquetry with wood veneers. But I have done different experiments, I baked pies and cakes based on these patterns, quilted stitched and wove the patterns. I folded and cut them through paper and other materials. Depending on what I have access to or which mood I am in I choose the material.
Which artists inspire you?
I have not studied art history and I do not know many of the famous artists, but I always respected women and men who had and are creating and making crafts. These are the ones who let the arts and crafts to continue living and spreading. And of course this machine, this system needs driving force and new ideas and free soul artists are the engines of it and are inventors. Anyone with novel idea inspire me and I respect everyone who is doing and creating and spreading arts.
Of all your works to date, which has been the most challenging to create?
I guess my first marquetry was one of the most challenging to this date, it was like walking in a foggy unknown place with a candle. But thanks to God I can say it was a successful start.
Can you share your creative process?
Everything starts with an idea. Thinking about the idea and deciding about how I am going to express that idea is usually the longest step. It sometimes takes months to be ready to execute. Then depending on the technique I chose I start to create and do the actual physical work. If I am trying and learning a new technique the idea will develop and change, sometimes very much, during the process. The most enjoyable part for me is when I am working with my hands and creating. After that I don’t think the piece belongs to me anymore. Something inside me has emerged and is not connected to me anymore.
The result is not always predictable and some works never finish. And when I don’t know how to continue working on a piece, I usually stop working on it and set it aside to be continued later with a fresh mind or new techniques, materials and ideas.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
I guess the best advice is to start! Without fear of being judged or failed. If you have passion for something and it calls you, answer this call. At the beginning this may look like an unknown or scary path but I'm sure one part of you can see the beam of light that is enlightening a way. Start from that and as you go new ways will be revealed and you will find what satisfies you the most. We all started without knowing where and how to learn, when you start you will find people and sources gradually.
Try to contact people who you think can help you or have similar interests as yours. Don’t compare yourself at the beginning to someone who started sooner than you, and remember you will learn something new by doing each piece, the more you practice you will learn more. And at the very beginning don’t expect something extraordinary happening. Just be patient and do what you are passionate about and enjoy it.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
Humans can recognize harmony and beauty and I believe it is desirable for them. Islamic art, all the different forms of arts and crafts being practiced in the very large area of Islamic lands, is harmonious and beautiful and is practiced by lots of women and men. It is a living tradition especially in the countries where it originated. Although it might not have the glory of its past.
I personally think the best way to help this tradition to be stronger is to know it without any biases and with open eyes. And try to bring it back to our daily lives and support the people who dedicated their lives to keep these traditions.
These days with the existence of social media and really facilitated communicating ways we see this growth of interest in Muslim and non-Muslim people, groups and communities to see more of these forms of arts and crafts. Also the artists can collaborate and contact much easier. Because these arts and crafts are practiced by not only Muslims but also non-Muslims and people with different backgrounds new ideas and techniques are introducing and using, so I could say I see a positive future for Islamic arts and crafts.
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