Encounter with Shahram Karimi, Artist

Encounter with Shahram Karimi, Artist


You were born in Shiraz in the Southwest of Iran where you spent your formative years, yet political exile has made you become a contemporary nomad, continually commuting between Germany (Cologne), Iran (Teheran, Shiraz) and The United States (New York City). Could you elaborate on your artistic trajectory mainly between these three countries?

When I was living in Iran there was no need to define myself or inquire about my professional plans. I was a painter, that’s it. It was clear for both me and everyone else. I got confused as soon as I moved to Germany in 1988. I did not know anymore how to define myself as an artist. I was far away from home, questioning the culture I was coming from and my way of inhabiting and performing it.

At that stage my vision of Iranian Art was blurred. I was facing a dilemma, either to be an Iranian artist anchored within the Iranian tradition - attempting to reproduce its styles and techniques - or to be influenced by the Western History of Art (namely Modernism and Abstraction). Living in Cologne as a first destination of exile and then in New York City where I have a lot of professional commitments I developed naturally a creative language, my own artistic language, nurtured by my personal experience of those cities and the encounters they allowed. 


Presenting your work, Film-Maker and Visual Artist Shirin Neshat wrote: “Mass displacement and political exile has become the most singular experience of our global age and artists, caught in the middle of this tidal wave, are often in search of expression for reconciling their seemingly opposing identities.” Does it mean that your work frames a space of encounter? 

I trained in the traditional Persian painting discipline of Parde Khani (illustrative paintings that are used as a background for performative art) when I was studying Fine Art in my country to understand the tradition I was coming from. In Germany I started to incorporate calligraphy - which are my own poems – in my works. Then I started to gradually combine quotations of Western Modern art with Persian motifs and personal representation of my homeland memories. Iran and its cultural heritage are like a magic box to me. Whenever I open it I can find new elements of inspiration that I activate through my life experience and contemporary concerns. 


Would you consider yourself as an Iranian artist? 

My paintings relate to my memories entangled within Iran’s national history. People, flowers or the ambiance of a village in my homeland are embedded in the canvas. I have still in mind a few memories and images from my past and I have collected old pictures from my relatives and friends. My paintings are imbued of nostalgia. I would say that I am an artist animated by two cultures, standing at a crossing path between tradition and consumerism. My work is an attempt to keep the essence of the society I belong to and that is now getting more and more globalized. Each artist shapes an identity that cannot be framed by a passport. 


You can transform your painterly language into different media: visual art, video installation, cinema, poetry and design. Could you tell us about your collaboration with Shirin Neshat as a production designer? How do you approach production design as a trained painter? 

I started working on Films with Iranian artists Shirin Neshat and Shoji Azari as their production designer. It went well and I collaborated with Shirin on all her film productions including the last one, a feature length film: “Women Without men”. I am operating with films as if they were paintings or art installations, by applying color, texture or positioning objects. I use the same language, vocabulary and grammar. The sets can heighten the emotional and psychological dramas of the characters and more generally could lead to magnificent visual tableaux. 


You are currently represented by galleries in Europe and in the United States. Who are the collectors of Sharham Karimi?

I work with European galleries (mainly in Germany and Italy) and one in New York City. Some of the collectors of my paintings are European, some others are from Iran. To be frank I do not care that much. No matter where they come from. I told you, passports are meaningless when you are talking about art.

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