Interview by Tess Martens
As a grad student at University of Waterloo, I did a studio visit with Mélika Hashemi.
She was doing her fourth and final year of her undergrad in Fine Arts. I got the opportunity to see her final piece at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery and wanted to see more.
Hashemi presented her piece, Ma'jooj, from July to October, 2018 in Open Sesame’s third Lèche Vitrine.
I was able to attend her talk at Open Sesame and Hashemi spoke thoughtfully and clearly about her work. I finally gained a full, well-deserved, appreciation for her art and requested an interview. We met again at Open Sesame to discuss her art in more detail.
Martens: Thank you for doing this interview. I am interested in your #FleeingTheFolio series. What sparked that idea?
Hashemi: It was actually from a curator and student of architecture at the time, Hagop Terzian, who approached me along with other artists for a show he called Displaced. Hagop was looking for works on displacement by artists who perceived themselves as displaced persons. To be honest, I never really thought of myself as “displaced” until he approached me, and that’s mainly because of how we think of [the physical sense of] displacement and at the time I believed it to be irrelevant as I never left a place to be displaced from it.
I still thought about it, and as a second-generation Iranian-Canadian I realized that I do experience displacement metaphysically (i.e. stuck in a limbo of “longing to belong”). In other words, I’m longing for the idea of home, not “home” itself.
I was always interested in Persian miniatures, maybe because I was surrounded by them when I volunteered at the Aga Khan Museum (specifically manuscript folios from Ferdowsi’s Book of Kings). At some point, I even believed the Simurgh to be my spirit animal.
I started looking at Persian manuscript folios online; different characters, different books. I took very casual shots of my everyday surroundings, nothing “postcard” about them. I had select characters from various folios in a digital library I created on a mobile app (Bazaart) and would see in which new surrounding they would each “fit” (or not).
There are digital collages I haven’t released because although the characters are all displaced, the process is intuitive, and sometimes I feel as though the characters’ personalities don’t necessarily “fit” with their new place.
Martens: How does your personal past feed into your work?
Hashemi: I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “past”, but I’d refer back to this constant limbo of longing to belong, and sorting that out through my works.
In the case of #fleeingthefolio, I use these hybrid figures (i.e. Ma’jooj: ten heads, same body) to show just that. I would consider this series the most accessible to viewers who experience displacement even beyond cultural belonging.
Martens: How does Iranian culture and craft fit into your practice?
Hashemi: The Persians miniatures, the patterns embroidered onto window screens, names and titles, certain customs that I am commenting on (i.e. ta’arof), and the text that is physically there, are just a few apparent references I have made to the Iranian culture.
I am not criticizing the Iranian culture in any way. I’m just trying to figure it out through my art, and it’s important to me that I do because it is a part of me that I cannot neglect. Asking my parents, “Why do Iranians say this or do that?” is not sufficient for me. I need to understand it by approaching it in different ways like I do in my studio.es
Martens: What influences you to decontextualize?
Hashemi: When you break down a large concept into smaller bits, then figure those small bits out without compromising the complexities, there is a chance for better understanding. Once those smaller bits are figured out to some extent and reassembled as a whole, the result may differ greatly from the original, but the concept was given a chance to be understood. I may not necessarily gain closure from all my works but at least I can be rest assured that I made efforts to gain a better understanding of the concepts I explored. The work might originate from a question that prompts me to make it, but I will almost always end up with more questions once it’s made. Sometimes viewers’ interpretations add to the meaning, answering some of those questions. It reminds me of a saying along the lines of “the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”.
Martens: How would you like the viewer to approach and understand your installations?
Hashemi: No expectations. If it’s difficult to encounter, that’s fine. I do things on purpose. For example, I will incorporate non-English text (i.e. Farsi) because I feel like there is so much Islamophobia surrounding it. I had to carry this burden my entire life despite being born and raised here. If the Western viewer finds it difficult to encounter then perhaps it demands to be confronted in that way because difficulty demands to be encountered and faced with.
If it is a comfortable or neutral encounter, then I need to seriously rethink my approach to art-making. If the encounter is a relatable one, evokes any reaction or raises questions, I have done my work as an artist.
All images © Mélika Hashemi
Follow Mélika on Instagram.
If you liked this post, please like, comment, and share.
You can spot Tess Martens performing with all her heart during karaoke night because she has to compensate for her singing voice or cracking jokes at a music open mic night. She is a performance artist and painter that exploits her vulnerabilities and humour. When she is not doing art, she is working with seniors. She recently received her Masters of Fine Art at the University of Waterloo. She now resides in Waterloo, Ontario. Follow Tess on Instagram.