Artist Q&A: Shahla Abdi

The following is a Q&A done via email with one of this month’s featured artists, Shahla Abdi.  Please check back for more Q&A’s with the rest of our featured artists in the New Faces, New Prints exhibition.  Also, be sure to come in and see the show.  Preview pictures coming soon!

WPG:   Your work has an interesting combination of Western figure drawing and Eastern decorative arts.  What led you to this combination of imagery?

"Jameh Mosque," woodcut by Shahla Abdi. Currently up in "New Faces, New Prints."

ABDI:  For me, there is such an emotional intensity (subtle as it may be) to the complexity, discipline, and rigidity of mosaic tile patterns and the intricate natural forms that they are inspired by. I see in such complex pattern the potential to convey a certain state of mind–whether it be exuberance, bewilderment, meditation, sorrow, etc, or a combination of any or all of these. So when in my work, the figure becomes enveloped in the pattern, I have come to see the pattern and the figure as two equal parts of a cohesive image conveying a certain psychological experience. 

WPG:  You use the term “nostalgia of diaspora” in your artist statement.  Could you explain a little bit about what this is and how it relates to your multi-cultural influences?

 ABDI:When I talk about the “nostalgia of diaspora”, I am referring to the experience of the expatriate. Although I am not an expatriate myself, I can deduce from my observations of my father and from my conversations with other expatriates that the expatriate experience can be disorienting and bittersweet because it exists within a liminal space. This is especially true when the decision to leave one’s homeland is based predominantly on extreme circumstances rather than solely on independent choice. One can alternately feel as though one lives in two places simultaneously (new home and homeland) and in no place at all. An interesting problem arises when an expatriate who leaves his homeland during adulthood has stayed away for an extended period of time. The unsettling sensation of living “in between” places, or in no place at all begins to set in. The expatriate no longer knows his homeland because it has changed so much from the time he left it. As for his relationship with his new home, any true sense of familiarity with it always seems to elude him since there is an endless array of pop culture references that he has yet to acquaint himself with as a result of never growing up there.

As the daughter of an expatriate, it is only natural that this unresolved sense of place and cultural identity continues to be felt in my own life. However, I consider this type of awareness and experience to be a gift rather than a burden. This constant feeling of tension between myself and my changing surroundings has served to remind me that one’s sense of place and cultural identity can, and in fact should, be completely fluid, if we are to authentically respond to the changes in our lives.

WPG: As a young artist (Shahla won the Excellence in Printmaking Award this year, recently completing her BFA and now in her Masters Studies), how do you see your work progressing in the future?  Any new routes that have interested you lately?

ABDI:  I am incredibly fortunate to be pursuing my graduate studies in New York City. Needless to say, here I am surrounded by many many people who are conscious of and excited about the fact that their sense of place and cultural identity is dynamic and changing all the time. Over the month and a half that I’ve lived here, I’ve had the pleasure of engaging in countless conversations on exactly this topic, and this has been incredibly refreshing. I’m sure that the discoveries that come from these and future conversations will inform and develop the multivalent nature of my work as it pertains to continuing a visual dialogue on cultural identity. 

Besides the cultural make-up of the city, there is the architectural landscape of the city that I’ve found intriguing. I have been particularly attuned to the way in which nature and the built environment are negotiated in public space, and how this affects the experiences of the city’s inhabitants, myself included. I am also fascinated with the ways in which oases are carved out of the city in the most unlikely places, and in the most unlikely of ways. The oases that have had the most impact on me are those which, upon discovery, transport me into the world of the product being sold in that given restaurant/store. I am thinking of a Turkish restaurant in whose back garden eating area I encountered a vast arrangement of the very same Turkish lamps I depicted in my varied edition of prints entitled “Gypsies”. I am also thinking of Il Papiro’s Upper East Side store, where every inch of the space is filled with its signature hand-marbled and hand-printed stationery created in its Florence printshop. 
 The latter discovery has inspired me to learn how to marble paper. Since I am in a M.A. program dealing with Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture (at theBard Graduate Center), I am interested in the history, techniques and cultures surrounding the production of marbled paper as a possible direction for my studies. As a printmaker, I am incredibly eager to learn the art of marbling so that I can incorporate it into my own work, as well! With the art form’s roots in the artistic traditions of the Far East and the Middle East, I see marbling as a continuation of my experimentation with complex Eastern decorative pattern in my work. 
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3 responses to “Artist Q&A: Shahla Abdi

  1. Thank you for an informative interview with a wonderful artist.

  2. Greetings Shahla,

    While I cannot attend your show in person when you are there, I wish you the best of luck. I also wish you all the best as you dive into the ocean that is paper marbling. In the coming year, I plan to offer a couple of workshops at the <a href="http://www.pyramidatlanticartcenter.org/art_programs/workshops.html&quot; title= "Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Silver Spring on both traditional and contemporary forms of Japanese suminagashi marbling using sumi inks dispersed on plain water, as well as Persian abri ( also known as ebru in Turkish), or “size-based” marbling, which has roots in Central Asia, India, Iran, and Turkey before it came to Europe. Most people think that marbling is simply floating oil color on water, but that is actually a very modern approach. Suffice it to say that there is a whole lot more to it than that. I just finished editing two sections of the Wikipedia entry on <a href=" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marbled_paper title= marbled paper, expanding some of the information on the history in East Asia and the Middle East. The European section still needs a lot of work to bring it up to par with the rest of the article though.

    Best of luck va movafagh bashee!

    Jake