This week I am very pleased to speak with young Iranian artist Sanam Khatibi who is currently exhibiting in London for the first time at the Waterside Contemporary gallery. Sanam’s work deals with human tragedy, emotions and loss of power & control … not unfamiliar to our world today. She presents these works in a very interesting and unique way, naturally guiding us to address the emotions and questions they raise and giving us the space to come to our own conclusions about them. You will see from the interview that Sanam is very passionate about her work and the subject matter at hand but at the same time, even though shocking, there can be healing once the fragility of human life has been exposed.
Congratulations on your current exhibition, The Antagonist, at Waterside Contemporary. I was reading the synopsis to this exhibition, which is about personal loss, political power and the ego, which our world is filled with currently. How do your works fit into that? Is that the intention you had in mind when starting these paintings?
Thank you! The works shown in The Antagonist were mostly done previously and some specifically for the show. I have always been interested by the paradoxical nature of power and the duality in which success and failure are exposed. I am mainly interested by the effects of loss and loss of control which are the prevalent elements in most of my works. It is the emotions that stem from experiencing loss that make us behave in the most peculiar and uncontrolled manner. The works shown at Waterside deal with these subjects.
Artists have that ability to take something personal and make it universal. What draws you to work with human trauma and loss? What is it that inspires you to take that particular event in a human life and transform it into a universal one?
I have always been fascinated by the traumatic experiences that mark a person’s life and how they affect the complexities of human behaviour. In other words, how we interact with the world around us, how such experiences shape our identity and how we pass them on from one generation to the next. Traumatic events, loss and loss of control, generate probably the strongest emotions we as humans go through during our lives. To me, they lead to the most visceral reactions we can have and give way to the deepest instinctive feelings which we have inside. It is a subject that extends out and provokes a different response according to different experiences felt by different individuals.
Your works seem to capture the study of human movement through different forms, especially the series that include “A Spectacular Fall From Grace” and “Whenever You’re Ready”. Is this something that you have been studying and observing and are going to develop further?
This series of work is concerned with the loss of control. It is all about the dichotomy of a controlled act with an aim to succeed, and the act of falling, thus leading to failure. In “Whenever you’re ready” the jockeys are thrown off their horses hence creating a series of odd movements, confronting each other whilst at the same time constructing a narrative of their own. I like the idea of developing this work further. There is something quite peculiar related to the loss of control which can lead to so many possibilities. In this particular series the act of falling leads to a transformation of movement, touching on an act of splendour whilst at the same time revealing fragility.
I love the work “I can make you happy” and also “I love you so much”, what were the ideas behind these?
Those two works deal with failure in relationships. It is about rendering emotions that are not always ideal. I suppose that they too are also about success and failure, getting what we want and eventually losing it. Every beginning has an end as everything changes…eventually.
There is a wonderful quotation by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “ to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is a great accomplishment”… “always do what you are afraid to do”. You made a really brave decision to leave your career path in politics and follow your passion into the arts. What advise can you give young people today who are struggling and for whatever reason find it a very daunting task to take that risk and follow their heart. What was that final motivating factor for you to just say this is what I want to do with my life?
It is the best decision I ever took! “Always do what you are afraid to do” I like it! It is not easy to leave security for the unknown, but for me it was essential. I did not want to become a prisoner of the working society doing something I was not passionate about. So many people today live in situations which makes them unhappy. They are afraid to leave what they believe is a form of security. I am not afraid of the unknown, and if I were to give advice, I would say follow your heart – it is one of our most reliable organs. I went to see the Gilbert & George retrospective at Tate Modern a few years ago. When I entered the first room, where they had their charcoal on paper drawings (their best works ever), I decided that was it! In that moment everything became clear – that moment was the final motivating factor.
(All images courtesy of the artist)