Maryam Hashemi is a London-based Iranian artist. Her work brings past and present together reflecting her personal journey from Iran to the UK and aspects of both cultures. Her main mediums are acrylic and watercolour but she also works with collage and objects. Her subjects are mostly women, and she works in a ‘Magic Realism’ style with influences from a range of movements including Classical, Pre-Raphaelite or Surrealist.
She’s exhibited her work in London, Brussels and Tehran. More recently she has started working on self-portraits reflecting a period of self-discovery.
She says about her work, “My paintings are vibrant and there are slight traces of darkness but no matter how chaotic or dark it gets the humour always finds a way”
In this short film for the BBC Maryam playfully designs artwork on the body of her partner’s van, working with her unconscious and a layering of experiences.
An interview with Maryam
What role does personal journey play in your work?
My work is very autobiographical even though the details about my personal life are sometimes hidden.
For a period in 2010 I specifically focused on my journey after I left Iran and the changes I went through. It was very helpful for me to see snapshots of my life on canvas and to reflect on the positive growth in my life. Since then I have been using my work as a tool to explore my life and the subconscious mind while planning my future.
How do you incorporate movement and migration?
I use different elements that physically symbolise movement and migration, such as roads and bridges, cars, boats, horses and flying objects and creatures. Sometimes a landscape in the distance is present which could symbolise the past and its very similar to Tehran’s cityscape ,or it could be the future when I’m showing bright horizons. Figures and objects in the foreground are mostly from my present. Different times and spaces exist side by side as a whole image with no borders in between which makes is much easier to explore.
Your work involves many layers of different experiences. How would you describe this style?
I sometimes call it Magical Realism, a term that is mostly used in literature but I connect to it strongly. My work usually has an illustrative quality and is telling a story even if the story is unclear at the time. My style is inspired by “Religious Icons”and ” Persian miniatures” also “Popular Coffee House Paintings”. All of these are all very layered and often show a few scenes and stories at once .
There have been three major waves of emigration from Iran since 1950. The first began in 1950 and lasted until the Iranian revolution of 1979, featuring religious minorities such as Armenians and Assyrians who feared persecution, and royalists opposed to the revolution.
The second, post-revolution, featured those fleeing military service and the Iraq-Iran war. Restrictions on women, including the veil, also caused many to seek freedom elsewhere. The third wave from 1995 has been due to Iran’s economic crisis and deteriorating human rights record.
In 2002 the Nationality, Asylum and Immigration Act was altered. The new Act introduced a greater emphasis on the control and removal of unsuccessful applicants, and removed support entitlements from asylum seekers who claim asylum ‘in-country’, unless able to prove they did so ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’. The Act also instituted the Life in the United Kingdom test for everyone seeking naturalisation or permanent residence in the UK. Asylum applications in the UK peaked the following year. These restrictions were accompanied by a campaign in the popular press demonising asylum seekers.