Sufi poetry is a big source of inspiration for me. This poetry has been really profound in both helping me uncover layers of myself and my identity, and also to understand my creator as the utmost essence of love. I’m also excited and inspired by modern renditions of Sufi poetry such as works by Mohsen Namjoo, Rana Farhan, and Shahram Nazeri. These musicians combine jazz, classical, and other music styles with traditional poetry.
The other source of inspiration that I have are glimpses of my childhood in Shiraz, especially time that I spent with my grandmother in her front yard. Imagery such as bitter orange or Naranj blossoms in the spring are intertwined with memories of her funeral. Grief, pain, nostalgia, are tied into the scent of these blossoms.
I have a small Naranj plant in my living room. Every spring it reminds me where I come from. Often, I am overwhelmed by grief for the parts of my culture and mother tongue which I have lost in the process of living away from home. It creates a powerful longing that has fuelled my artistic voice.
Art keeps my soul alive. It keeps me awake to my dreams, my past, and my place in the world. The relationship that I’ve had with art has been complicated by parental influence, which nudged me toward a career that is sustainable and safe.
In this process, I was pushed away from art and encouraged to follow my other interests. So, after pursuing a double major during my undergrad and a Masters in Psychology, I kept coming back to art. It’s the one thing that I’m supposed to do. I’m meant to create and share my work with other people and, in doing so, understand myself.
I’m learning that art is meant to be created and to awaken you, as opposed to something that you commoditize. I would say do whatever you have to do to keep creating, writing, listening, and keeping your eyes open to things that inspire you. The really beautiful thing about living in the diaspora is that you can critically choose how you identify with your culture and with your spirituality. So, I would say don’t be afraid to fall back into your history because the more layers that you peel, the deeper and meaningful your work will become.
I recently finished my Master’s and I was working in non-profit with youth for over a year and I decided to leave my job because of an overwhelming sense of imbalance in my life. I heard about Indie Studio shortly after. I applied, and I think that the ease with which I was able to write my application and articulate what I wanted to do was an indication that this is where I should be right now in my life. Since then, I’ve discovered a really incredible sense of community here. I’d really love to see more Iranian and Muslim youth accessing the space, to explore their art and just find themselves in community art spaces.
I’d really like to challenge myself to move my art from the safety of being hidden to being more out there. I would like to embrace all the different parts of my identity, that means maybe going to Iran to apprentice with a pottery master even though that freaks me out just to say it. Maybe that means dedicating most of my time to art, which is also something that sounds unorthodox to me but also wonderful.
I think in taking these risks, I’ll begin to grow more into myself. My ultimate goal is to do a solo exhibit in two years. I also intend to continue developing community-based programs for youth and young women at the margins so they can open up to themselves through art and develop resiliency.
Continue following Zahra and her work on Instagram @zizee_.
Photo credits: Jahmal Nugent