In this interview, The Harlem Times interviewed Hima, an artist from Tehran, Iran who is now based in Istanbul, Turkey. She studied art at Gila University with an architecture degree. She can be found on social media at https://www.instagram.com/shima.najafisiyahroudi.
The Harlem Times: So, you are from Iran but now live in Turkey. Why did you did you leave Iran for Turkey?
Hima: About two years ago, for a change of lifestyle. For freedom of expression. In Iran, I was an architect but one day I decided to change my life. As you know, we have a lot of problems in Iran, and I wasn’t allowed to express myself and my art. I paint women, nudes, and purity and all those subjects are prohibited and illegal to paint in Iran.
THT: When did you start painting or were you always painting?
H: All my life I’ve been painting, all my life I’ve always been painting for myself. I can’t even remember when I started. But, about 5 years ago, I partook in a group exhibition in Tehran, and my painting was voted as the best in the exhibition and that’s what started things for me professionally.
THT: What was that first painting about?
H: It was a painting depicting people as sculptures frozen…with long necks and red ribbons around their heads. Around the world the image of a red ribbon means “movement”….but many people wear this symbol as fashion but don’t actually embrace the movement. So, I depicted these people as sculptures, still unmoving as sculptures who just don’t move….
THT: So that there it all started?
H: Yes, as a professional artist!
THT: What is your style influenced by? Because it’s very beautiful and very classical with a very modern and almost architectural form to it. It has flow, but it’s also very soft and vulnerable.
H: At first, I loved classic art, so I mimicked the classical artists, especially their color choices. In addition to the Renaissance period, I love surrealists, so I mixed the classic colors with more modern thinking…it’s hard to explain, but you just have to see it to understand.
THT: Where do you get your inspirations from? Iran, Persian culture, modern issues, or just you?
H: As a woman in the Middle East…women’s issues in the region affect me but mostly it just comes from me and what I’m feeling at the time.
THT: So, what’s your process? What does Hima do to become inspired or to start something new on canvas? Do you get a model or look at photos or go for a walk or is it just something that shows up?
H: I usually start with a feeling and my sense. I related to a very personal issue of a relationship…I think of this personal problem and pull back, try and view it from afar, and start thinking about that a lot….and I do a psychological treatment where I overthink [in order to] think of a title. And then I usually choose a figure and take a photo of myself and use myself as a model and choose one and work on it digitally to get it started and then move to canvas.
THT: So you are your own model? So when we look at these paintings we are looking at you?
H: Yes, exactly.
THT: How does that make you feel when people look at you on canvas?
H: Usually, I don’t tell people it’s me. At first for me it was fighting with myself because of a Middle Eastern woman in Iran I censored myself just as if I am censored by my society. And with my paintings I began to show myself and started to not feel ashamed of myself. Right now, in person, it’s difficult to show my body but in my paintings I can show myself.
THT: And we all know the Middle East and especially places like Iran aren’t exactly women-friendly and not open to any art that isn’t in line with religious or political. As a woman I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be censored non-stop. But, as an artist, it must be worse because we can change ourselves or pretend to be something we aren’t. How, though, in Iran, which once had an amazing culture of art, poetry, and life, do artists like you survive without the spark of creativity dying?
H: I didn’t work long with many or any Iranian artists because I left early in my art career. But right after my first exposition, I began to send my paintings out to the rest of the world, and from then, I decided to leave.
THT: So, your art has made it around the world? You have told me that your art has made it to Harvard University.
H: In 2019 and 2020, I had two of my paintings exhibited at Harvard.
THT: How did you get in contact with Harvard?
H: With Iranian galleries in MA, Touch Gallery helped me out.
THT: And you had a problem in getting these paintings out of Iran?
H: Yes, because they were nudes of women, the post office wouldn’t let me export these paintings!
THT: Right now, are you in Turkey? Is being a female artist easier now than when you were in Iran?
H: Yes, at least I can paint and think freely without fear. And I can exhibit my art publicly without any issues.
THT: So, what’s next?
H: I’m hoping to have other exhibitions in other countries such as France. And I’m about to publish a new series of works for Touch Galleries in MA for November. I just want to keep painting and to keep showing my work around the world.
THT: Have you ever thought of exhibiting in NYC?
H: Actually, I would love it but right now I don’t have any ways of showing there but if there were a chance I would love to! And if any reader wishes they can contact me!
THT: So right now, if someone wants to see or buy your paintings, they should contact Touch Studios in Massachusetts?
H: Yes, precisely.
THT: And if someone, say, wants an original or something commissioned they should on Instagram where you show a lot of your work?
H: Yes; you can find me at https://www.instagram.com/hima.najafi/
THT: What would you say to any young lady like you in the Middle East who wishes to pick up a paint brush?
H: I can’t speak for them, I can only speak for myself, but it’s complicated but I can’t say. Maybe no one cares about us women of the Middle East or me, but I decided to care for myself, so I wanted to do what I want to do and love so I tried for it.