Atia Shafee: Raw and Distant Memories

15 February, 2022


“Orig­i­nal Moth­er,” cook­ie, fab­ric, fiber­glas, paper on can­vas, 60x48-in, Atia Shafee 2022.


Atia Shafee


Born and raised in the Deep South of the US, I was ten when my fam­i­ly returned to Tehran, Iran, where I lived through my teen years. At that young age, the tran­si­tion to a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent cul­ture was a shock which rocked me to the core of my iden­ti­ty. Since return­ing to the US at the age of 19, my time has been divid­ed between the two coun­tries, con­stant­ly bridg­ing the two cul­tures, two lan­guages, two iden­ti­ties. My work, there­fore, explores themes of dual cul­ture, child­hood trau­ma and sex­u­al abuse with its emo­tion­al scar­ring, spring­ing direct­ly from per­son­al expe­ri­ence. Though encom­pass­ing the large con­flicts of soci­eties, the work I cre­ate is deeply inti­mate, com­mit­ted to the preser­va­tion and expres­sion of child­hood inno­cence, buried and obscured by intense life expe­ri­ences. Cul­tur­al clash, split per­son­al­i­ty, emo­tion­al reac­tions and child­hood mem­o­ries are the soul of the pieces, which as in arche­ol­o­gy, are dis­cov­ered through the explo­ration of lay­ers built over time.

“One-Hun­dred Sev­en­ty-Six,” fab­ric, fiber­glass, paper, thread on can­vas, 51x59-in, Atia Shafee 2021.

The recent, ongo­ing series (2019–2020), explores the inter­play of tex­tures — paper, fab­ric, fiber­glass — with sym­bols and words in Far­si, Eng­lish, and rec­og­niz­able ele­ments from Per­sian and Amer­i­can cul­ture, all lay­ered to tell sto­ries. Ideas and sym­bols merge with pure feel­ing, which togeth­er intend to res­onate, trig­ger, and chal­lenge, draw­ing the observ­er into the expe­ri­ence. Through the manip­u­la­tion of lay­ers cov­er­ing and merg­ing togeth­er, the pieces ele­vate per­son­al cul­tur­al iden­ti­ty expe­ri­ences, uni­ver­sal­iz­ing them, ampli­fy­ing the lay­ers of psy­cho­log­i­cal chal­lenges and changes we all expe­ri­ence. The pieces are like dis­tant mem­o­ries that remain raw and present to the imme­di­ate moment — unable to fade, as they reflect the present-day real­i­ties of immi­grants every­where, in their chal­leng­ing and hos­tile new environments.

Frag­ments of mem­o­ries of a child with­in a trans­plant­ed Per­sian cul­ture, the prodi­gal return to the moth­er­land, and the strug­gle for iden­ti­ty, encom­pass mean­ing, which becomes rich­er as these var­i­ous ele­ments accu­mu­late, merge, build and blend. Beyond the social and psy­cho­log­i­cal notions of child­hood, the works demand acknowl­edg­ment of art as activism, its abil­i­ty to engage with civic life, to take polit­i­cal action, through social criticism.

Expe­ri­ences of immi­gra­tion, cul­ture clash, racial and social dis­crim­i­na­tion are the dri­ve, the ener­gy behind the pieces. Lay­ers devel­op from, and build on child­hood inno­cence, then each piece diverges into a unique impres­sion of trau­ma, sen­su­al­i­ty, and the some­time vio­lent dis­so­lu­tion of inno­cence. Each emo­tion­al por­trait starts with a foun­da­tion lay­er of col­or rem­nants, our child­hood safe­ty blan­ket or quilt. The lay­ers on top decon­struct the illu­so­ry feel­ings of safe­ty, secu­ri­ty, and hap­pi­ness, the uni­ver­sal­ly imag­ined ide­al child­hood, and grow lay­er by lay­er into an aspect of the artist, a part of her being now, in the moment of cap­ture. The forms are adorned with fab­rics, paper, and fiber­glass — both hid­den and exposed through the lay­er­ing of mate­r­i­al, then pre­ci­sion aging of lay­ers, show­ing their opaque­ness and illu­so­ry nature, all jux­ta­posed with potent emblems of the US and Iran, the frame­work of cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal tensions.


American Iranianbeing between worldsdual culturesidentityTehrantrauma

Born in Oklahoma City in 1984, Atia Shafee lives and works in Los Angeles. She pursued her Design diploma in Tehran and was trained by Tendai Johnson at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD who had a large impact on her observational skills. In 2014, Judith Stone and Zdeno Mayercak were influential on her development of her own sculptural voice. Atia obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Otis College of Art and Design. Her work explores concepts of culture, childhood trauma and sexual abuse, separation and belonging in an abstract form. Her sculptural process is an interaction of paper, fabric, fiberglass layered with symbolic words in Farsi and English. The final forms are abstract, adorned with material both hidden and exposed through the process of multiple layering and labor-intensive hours of scraping and sanding. Atia is a multi-disciplinary artist, concurrently working on a series of photographic portraits, featuring her own vision of the subjects, their personalities, and the interplay of light, shadow, color, and charisma. Atia has exhibited in art institutions including Montgomery College, Ben Maltz Gallery and galleries in Tehran. While actively working as a full-time artist, she is also completing a memoir. 


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