"I have to go back to my childhood and later high school where I studied science and revolted against my family when I changed my field of study to art one summer. Back then in Iran, art was not a common career choice, especially for women; my parents wanted me to be a doctor!
Science, literature, traveling, and learning about the history of Iran through architecture, the diverse culture, the Green Movement and then becoming a refugee were early influences in my life and helped shape my character and outlook and the way I approach art," artist Shaghayegh Cyrous, speaks to us about her art journey and practice.
"As far as I can remember, when I learned to read and write, we were always traveling around Iran. My parents emphasized learning about Iran's art and history. So we were going to different cities and my mom would ask me to reflect on what I saw. I kept a notebook and pencil and captured what I experienced on those journeys. I would go to bookstores with my dad and it was important that I read various books before going to bed, which was another way for me to travel through time, learn about cultures and explore different minds. My connection to nature was and still has a significant impact on me. I get so much inspiration from nature and the living beings around us. When I was a kid, I carried a magnifying glass or microscope with me in our backyard and followed where an ant would go or what a circle worm would eat. These remain common ways for my exploration, entering to different gates and learning about new unknown worlds.
Traveling to the US was for sure one of the biggest challenges in my life! Being away from my family for 10 years and not being able to see them is so hard! But at the same time, it helps to understand the pain of so many refugees like me who didn't choose to live apart from everything they love. I use my art as a healing tool. Making the decision to speak about the plight of refugees through my art is also challenging. The art world starts to want to put you in a category. Within my work, I try to gather everyone with similar challenges together, so we can learn from one another, create a safe space and build a stronger community. I think this is really important;
also for educating myself about immigrant and refugee lives, as everyone has a different experience but with the same feelings. I try to at least tell my story to educate others and maybe inspire others to speak up and not feel isolated, as we all understand the pain.
My art process starts with an idea that often comes to me in the middle of the night or while I am in my studio or in nature. An idea might take a long time to come to life. I do so much research. I combine my intuition with what I find related to that theme. For my video installations, if I am not on a quick deadline, it usually takes a few months for me to complete a piece and be happy about it, especially if they are site-specific; so much research goes towards my projects before I am satisfied with what I am delivering.
My Social Practice projects take a longer time. Sometimes the idea I am working on is one I have had for years and I just need the right time, resources and people around me to make it happen.
I take photos and shoot videos as a daily practice and they usually end up being material for any of the projects I am working on.
Currently, I am working on the Zamin Project, which aims to bridge the South West Asian and North African (SWANA) Community in the Bay Area. This project evolved and rose from previous projects. I am grateful to be able to work with so many genius minds and bring SWANA artists together through this project. It's just so exciting to learn from each of the participants. The first series of Zamin laid out consists of three intergenerational panel discussions and 15 short interviews with Bay Area artists moderated by Roula Seikaly.
All the programs are free and open to the public. People just need to register for the panels to receive the zoom link.
Panel 1: SWANA in the BAY AREA: What is SWANA?
Saturday, August 14, 2021, 2:00 PM
Participants: Targol Mesbah, Dena Al Adeeb, LE Brow, Naz Cuguoğlu
Panel 2: SWANA in the BAY AREA: Art leaders and Institutions
Saturday, August 21, 2021, 2:00 PM
Participants: /Slash: Ana Saygi, Incline: Shirin Makaremi, Root Division: Michelle Mansour, Arab Amp: Leyya Mona Tawil
Panel 3: SWANA in the BAY AREA: Art leaders and Institutions
Saturday, August 28, 2021, 2:00 PM
Participants: Kathy Zarur, Taraneh Hemami, Azin Seraj, Sholeh Asgary
Interviews will be published from September 1- September 24: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Misha Abbas, Anum Awan, Katayoun Bahrami, Zeina Barakeh, BSisters, Ali Dadgar, Manar Harb, Kiana Honarmand, Nasim Moghadam, Omar Mohammad, Efe Ozmen, Ebtihal Shedid, Keyvan Shovir, Minoosh Zomorodinia.
Next, I am planning for the second series of the Zamin Project, which is exciting! And I am working on a few video works as well. More will come soon! "
Follow Shaghayegh Cyrous on IG @shaghayeghcyrous
Photo of Artist Shaghayegh Cyrous
Interviewed by Manar Harb for Oakland Artists Gallery