MUNTHE ART MONDAY: MARIAM TAFSIRI
Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do.
My name is Mariam Tafsiri and I’m a British-Iranian artist and illustrator from London. My work is inspired by Qajar art, Persian miniature paintings and Islamic designs. Fundamentally I’ve always been inspired by people; I’ve drawn portraits ever since I was young and I think that’s why I love miniature paintings. They capture people in very free-flowing positions and tell a story unlike, for example, European paintings which were largely created to boast of the sitter’s wealth. Qajar art refers to art created during the rule of the Qajar dynasty in Iran - I find it a really fascinating period because of the way European economic and political influences on Iran fed through into its art, developing a new style of portraiture. They took European realism and twisted it, using similar painting styles and colours but creating individuals in very idealised forms (much like in traditional miniature paintings). So, my work is a modern take on these traditions.
Could you explain more about how being a woman has affected your career?
I actually work full-time as an economist, which is a very male-dominated profession. It can be difficult at times working in teams where you are the only woman. When I was in the earlier stage of my career, I found it incredibly difficult to get my voice heard over louder, more confident men. It has taken time but I’ve had to learn to be very self-assured and resilient and I think this is something many women struggle with as we’re often socialised into being humble. In terms of the impact of being a woman on my art, I found myself naturally focusing on women characters in my art the more I drew. Part of the reason for my interest in Qajar art is that, as a child, I took inspiration from its focus on unibrowed women as they presented a very different concept of beauty to that regularly portrayed in the media. Other art by women artists I follow on Instagram has helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin and I try to recreate that with my own art.
Can you name some other female (artist) that inspires you and explain why they do so?
One female artist who particularly inspires me is Natalia Goncharova, who was at the forefront of the Russian avant-garde in the first half of the 20th Century. I love her use of colour and bold expressionist techniques and how she was focused on combining East and West and creating her own Russian style rather than simply following Western European trends. I particularly love her paintings of women - given the dominance of the female nude in a lot of historical European artwork, I love to see how female artists present women through a different lens. You can love an artwork for its aesthetic beauty but I think art by female artists can often also give a deeper sense of connection where you can relate to what’s depicted.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a female artist?
Because I began my artwork through posting on Instagram and focus on commissions through that, I don’t really have to deal with the wider issues in the art industry. One thing I would say is that one of the negative features of Instagram is that it often pushes artists towards specific styles and subjects and I think this is exacerbated when it comes to art by and for women. There’s a lot said about influencers and beauty trends on Instagram but even in art you can see very dominant styles which are designed to appeal at a basic level and gain likes. I think it’s important female artists constantly push against what “female art” is meant to look like.
What would you like people to notice in your artwork?
My art tries to present a different concept of beauty but also tries to bring to the fore various artistic traditions which might not be as commonly appreciated. It’s difficult coming from a Middle Eastern or Muslim background and forever being associated with negative imagery. So, I try to share the beauty and history but in a personal way.