We had the good fortune of connecting with Katayoun Bahrami and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katayoun, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I am an Iranian living in Bay Area, California. I grew up in Tehran and became interested in art and making when I was a little girl. As a child, watching my mom doing those beautiful crochet work using silk yarn and my dad’s poems, photography, and calligraphy made me choose art as the path I wanted to take. The society I was growing, had a significant impact on me, my personality, and my practice. Different laws and orders focusing on women and women’s body were always made me have questions. Questioning the taboos that targeting women’s bodies has always been my concern, and I portray them in my work.
I have always had this question why women need to cover their hair and their body? Why most of the strict rules are focusing on women and their bodies? I have been looking for answers, but little by little, it became clear that these rules and laws are there for us to obey. Schools and the educational system also had a great role and still having to count the feminine as a gender, which must remain weak. I always asked this simple question, “why?” My biggest concern has always been the lack of freedom for women.
Almost everywhere in the world, experience shows that control and repression, first of all, begin to control and repression of women’s bodies, at home, or by society and governments. It looks normal to think about freedom as the right to vote or the right to drive, but Iranian women gained it many years ago and now upholding something beyond that. None of these restrictions silenced women, and they always stand and are valued in the face of these injustices. All of this made me ask the same unanswered question again when I seriously entered the art world, but this time with a different medium. But in fact, I consider myself part of this group of women who strongly have been influenced by certain beliefs, traditions, and strict rules. Even now that I live in a free country, I don’t feel separated. Working around the issues that women in my country encounter brings me closer to where I came from and belonged.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I was growing up, I was introduced to art by my parents, who have always had a passion for that. My childhood was filled with moments where I was busy with different kinds of art. Art has always been my interest until it became serious when I decided to change my major to Fine Arts in college. I graduated with my bachelor’s in fine arts in Iran. After graduating, I worked in different companies as a designer and some positions with no relation to art. But I have always stuck to it and had multiple art exhibitions in Tehran. After moving to the U.S., I received my master’s in Arts and Cultural Management, Museum Studies from Michigan State University in 2017. After graduating, I moved to California and started working at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles for almost a year, which helped me connect with amazing people and awarded me great opportunities. I am currently in my first year of graduate school to pursue my Master of Fine Arts at California College of the Arts. Honestly, it has always been very challenging. It is not easy for people to leave their home country and move to a new place to start over again, and I am not an exception. However, challenges enable a person to do things that may be uncomfortable but help them learn new skills, adopting new habits, and experiencing new things, which I love this aspect of that a lot.
As a woman who lived in a society that witnessing the disturbing treatment of women every day, I am happy that I have my freedom here. But still, I have to face new challenges. Challenges such as the travel ban, cultural differences, and sanctions consequences, to name a few. As a student from Iran, I need to convince others that whatever they see in the media is not valid. In addition, students in the U.S. on F-1 visas always have to deal with a very challenging life.
My practice works at the intersections of identity, women, and boundaries, which deals with the experience of distance caused by political and cultural power forces. My art derives from the desire to reconcile distinctive places affected by political events, culture, and religion. Challenging the taboos targeting women’s bodies is engaged in my practice since I want to portray them in my work.
Living in these distinct places has raised many questions centered around the philosophy of boundaries for me. I reflect on memories from Iran juxtaposed to my current reality in the USA. As the only open window to connect to my home country, I have an especial look at social media platforms. I am exploring the issues around the topic of exile. And I am exploring exile concerning reconciling the memories in different locations in the context of nature. Dividing everyday living between the two concepts of physical and virtual has been drawn to my attention.
In my installations, I re-create and explore my experiences based on my memories. Sometimes I challenge myself as an Iranian woman facing new and different situations affected by limitations in a new country. Using memories from the past, I work through a series of photographs, textiles, and mixed media.
Aspects of the various locations in nature become the draft of my work to create a moment of reflection for the viewer. Farsi handwriting encompasses most of my art while I use the poems by Forugh Farokhzad, an Iranian feminist poet, and portray the meaning into my work. In my art, I present a strong woman who does not want to be silent. I want my message to interact with the viewer through the text I create in my work.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
First, let’s hope things get back to what they used to be soon. Then, about the Bay Area, I would love to go out with a friend to show me around and tell me where to go or where to enjoy a portion of delicious food. Because since I moved to Bay Area, I lived in lockdown, and I didn’t go out to explore around. Talking about LA, I remember we had a ritual when a friend decided to visit me. First of all, I would take my friend to my favorite museum, The Broad, and after giving them a quick tour, I would take them downstairs to see fantastic work by Yayoi Kusama “Infinity Mirrored Room.” There is a joke between Iranians saying Iranian travel only to discover other Iranian restaurants and tasting Iranian food. That being said, the next stop would be the one and only Raffi’s Place in Glendale to eat Kabab. For dessert, I would definitely take them to Westwood or Persian Square to have the most delicious ice cream in the world at Saffron & Rose and let them taste some Saffron ice cream and fall in love with that forever. Finally, I would love to show them the beauty of LA, such as sun-warmed sandy beaches, Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I have a long list of people that helped me throughout my journey: my parents and their generosity in love and support -they always encouraged me to follow my dreams and be myself, and since then, they helped me pursue my goals even when it is so hard for them to be apart from me for many years now- my husband and his unconditional love and encouragement, he is the one who always pushes me to move forward and assisting me in my studio anytime I needed, my amazing mentors and artists that I worked with, the poet Forough Farokhzad and her poems that I was inspired by, and finally my friends in the US especially, the friends I made in Michigan through Friendship House MSU that have always made me feel welcomed and at home by devoting themselves to help newcomers and international students.