Combining the personal, private and political with wit, style and elegance, Azita Moradkhani is a worthy winner of two prizes under the banner of the Young Masters Art Prize. The ceremony took place in June at Piccadilly’s exclusive Gallery 8, and Morakhani stunned the room into admiring silence as she received her awards via videolink. After Nyne’s Editor Claire Meadows was present, and interviewed the artist about the past, the present, and a very bright future.
Congratulations on your awards, Azita. A spectacular achievement. What did winning the Young Masters Prize and Young Masters Emerging Woman Art Prize mean to you?
Thank you so much. Winning the 2017 Young Masters Art Prize and the Young Masters Emerging Woman Art Prize from The Cynthia Corbett Gallery has been an honor for me and I am very grateful for that.
What made you want to apply for the Prize?
The masters are relevant in my work in that I maintain a traditional artistic practice, using representation to comment on the contemporary world. I’m interested in returning beauty and realism to contemporary art, using formality, virtuosity, and delicacy to connect my work aesthetically to art of the past. So, when I heard about the Young Masters Art Prize, I thought it would be a good fit for the kind of projects I’ve been working on.
Your winning work is full of mystery – it’s only when one looks closer that the real detail is revealed. How does this represent your views on the purpose of art?
My drawings of intimate lingerie, “Victorious Secrets,” on paper in colored pencil, use imagery culled from photojournalism and iconography to explore connected narratives of pain and pleasure, using these aesthetics to shift the viewer’s focus to possibility to hope. Yet as they look more closely, past the details of lace and filigree, my disruptive iconography becomes apparent, engaging the inherited histories of nation and belief. I take time to go through the channels of the art world and make my points aesthetically approachable, but aesthetic pleasure is not enough in the world today. I’m not interested in making propaganda, either, but there has to be a conceptual dimension, and I want to challenge viewers to recognize the significance of both of these and how they work together in so many of the images made available to us.
What themes do you always return to in your work?
The female body is central to my work, specifically its exposure to different social norms. It is about displacement as an unnatural state we experience when we find ourselves insecure in our own bodies. My “Victorious Secrets” drawings were based on the impression I got from walking into a Victoria’s Secret store in the U.S. for the first time. Seeing such a large lingerie store in public surprised me, as in Iran such stores were private, secret spaces. The connections and tensions between sexual representation and national identity, between public and private, are themes that I’m working with right now.
Who/what have been your influences?
I’ve been impressed by the way Greer Lankton connects her body’s experiences in her work, resulting in a strong dialogue with the viewer about gender and sexuality. Also, I like Wangechi Mutu’s belief that “females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.” Moreover, I’ve been drawn to the illustrations of Jim Shaw and the way that he challenges different theories about religion, human being, and beliefs.
What are the next steps for you? Maybe a full solo exhibition?
I’ve shown my work in different group and solo exhibitions in the U.S. and outside. I also curated a group exhibition featuring the work of seven Iranian female artists in Boston this past May, which was an amazing experience and a very successful show. I just started a journey to participate in multiple artists’ residencies in the U.S. for nine months, and I am planning to keep traveling for the next two years. So, while I am exposing myself to new environments, I will also keep focusing on my process of making art.
In your view is it ever possible to truly separate the personal from the political in art?
For me, it is difficult to separate them: I come from a country where people are very engaged with social and political issues anyway. So, that could be a reason why I can’t see the political separated from personal matters.
Azita Moradkhani, Untitled (Victorious Secrets), 2016