Interview with Reza Baharvand
Collateral: Tell us a little about yourself. How were you introduced to visual arts?
Reza Baharvand: I was born in 1976 in Iran. In 1978, the revolution occurred and when I was four the war started. My childhood passed over those years, full of fear and anxiety. After the war, the situation improved slightly. I entered Isfahan University of Technology in physics but abandoned it halfway. I had been interested in painting since I was a kid, and after a while I went to Isfahan University of Art to study painting. I continued it up to masters at Tehran University of Art. Since graduation, I have had many exhibitions in Iran and other countries.
At first I painted in abstract style, but about five years ago I realized it was not satisfying to me, so I changed my way. Hearing and watching news about war and violence in the Middle East and permanent military threats against my country deeply influenced me, and I couldn’t ignore it in my artworks. So I started to work on war as the subject.
C: I believe we are all impacted by war, though it is easier for some to turn away from or ignore it. What is your experience with people around the world interacting with your work and its message?
RB: Every day, many people around the world see a lot of pictures and videos of war on TV or other media. Many people prefer to avoid that and a large number of them who may be impressed by these images and even sympathize with the victims at the moment, usually forget what they have seen just after a few minutes.
The fact is that the news channels have strongly reduced the enormity of war images by broadcasting them repeatedly. It has turned humans to indifference. I have tried to draw people’s attention to this issue.
The “Still Life” series consist of two layers. In the foreground there are shiny and captivating icons of daily life that most audiences are attracted to in the first look. But the final reactions depend on how they interact with backgrounds, which are defaced images of war. Some viewers react negatively to them because they don’t want to see war. But some try to figure out the relevance between layers and discover the meaning.
I just try to make questions with my works, not answers. It’s important for me to encourage people to think about what they have seen, even if they reach different results.
C: You have experience as an arts instructor. What has it been like to work with students also impacted by war?
RB: I teach at the University of Art and my students haven’t directly experienced war themselves. The war ended before they were born. They never can understand the reality of that. For most of them, war is the same as the images on TV. As a teacher, I've never wanted to persuade students to accept my ideas. I just try to instruct them not to be indifferent about what is happening.
C: What advice do you have for artists who are just beginning their craft?
RB: In my opinion, an artist should be conscious of the events happening where they live. Anything that is generally misplaced by the public can inspire an artist. On the other hand, it is really important for beginners to improve their knowledge and skills as much as possible. I believe artists who do most of their work themselves can create more impressive pieces.
C: Has war limited or restricted your artistic pursuits? What is its impact on your process?
RB: If you mean war as the subject, I should say that seeing images of recent wars in the Middle East strongly influences me and brings back memories of when I was child and we were at war with Iraq (1980-1988). Sometimes I think working with war as the subject is also kind of mental treatment for me. I really don’t know how long this period will continue. Maybe as far as I can carry it.
C: Your work is on display in Tehran, is that correct? How has it been received?
RB: The “Still Life” series was displayed in Tehran last year. There was a wide range of reactions. Talking about war to the people who have experienced it for 8 years and live in a country that is constantly threatened by war is not easy, but most of the audiences sympathized with my works and agreed with me about how we neglect what is happening.
In my exhibition there were also visitors who preferred not to face the signs of war. Unfortunately this is what many people think—that art is an object to decorate their houses. They usually look for works that don’t have any bitter or unpleasant meaning.
C: How do you see your work in conversation with other artists drawing attention to the brutality as well as human elements of war?
RB: Many artists around the world have paid attention to war, some of them directly and some indirectly. I prefer the second one and in my way. I believe artists should not explain everything clearly in their work. Of course it should not be so dumb as to mislead the audience. The work should attract audiences in the first facing, then make them think about what they are watching.
It is important for me to make questions in the minds of visitors of my works. The audience may understand parts of my purpose or not. Sometimes they detect true issues that I hadn’t thought about myself, like the relationship between life and death or the upstarts who get rich after war. When it happens, I realize that I have done my work right.
C: Do you have a favorite piece, one that you're connected with more than others?
RB: All pieces in this series are related and meant to be together. So, none of them are superior to the rest. I like all of them.
C: Which artists or genres have inspired you or influenced your work?
RB: I know a lot of artists around the world and I like a wide range of artworks. But when I'm working I try to forget all of them. However, it may happen unconsciously.
C: Can you tell us a little about your process?
RB: At first, I find an image of war, usually recent wars in the Middle East, from TV or the Internet. It is important for me to paint war images completely, in detail, to emphasize that the images are existing in reality. I paint it realistically in large size, then scratch and destroy it. I scratch them in order to show how we ignore the truth. In the foreground, there are objects painted in glitter. They are objects from everyday life, but they are shiny and deceptive. The main issue is in the background.
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