In between Iran and Zurich - a mindscape of transitory colours

Mahroo Movahedi

Finding oneself uprooted in time and/or space is a normal condition for artists, but each exile, expatriation or emigration is always a new discovery. In the case of the Iranian Mahroo Movahedi, the sense of belonging and loss in her Swiss new home affects also the perception of colours.

This content was published on October 2, 2020 minutes
Mahroo Movahedi

The flight from Iran to Switzerland took Mahroo Movahedi only 5 hours, but she landed in a mental void, in-between her native ever-sunny Isfahan and her new abode in Zurich. It is not that Movahedi had problems to get integrated in Switzerland: she pursued her studies at the Zurich University of Arts (ZHdK) and gave a new turn to her practice in an interdisciplinary way - connecting anthropological and sensory ethnography to her art practice.

Having won the Young Art Award from Ute Barth gallery in Zurich in 2016, a biannual prize for artists under 33 years old, has helped to raise Mahroo’s profile beyond the Swiss art scene. And although her motifs still carry her Isfahan memories, she navigates an artistic realm, the “in-between” space she likes to mention time and away, where national borders are dissolved. You come from Iran and have worked there as an artist and teacher of fine art for quite a few years and now, you live, study, and work in Switzerland. What have you kept of your practice from your time in Iran? 

I started in Iran with plastic artwork and visual art, my main technique was and still is printmaking. Mahroo Movahedi

You say that you explore issues realted to culture, landscape, and language questioning the notion of identity and sense of belonging. How is it?

Mahroo Movahedi
The drive behind my artistic practice now is (the desire) to create a space for perception and reflection revolving around nature. Especially in my video installations where I often focus on the sense of belonging and that of loss and how I visualize the process of change. I search for ways to combine artistic exploration with the scientific approach. Our landscapes are changing. Mahroo Movahedi

Where is your inspiration, here or there?

My work is rooted in my memory – So, as an artist, I am not only observing the world to see the landscape, I also want to gain another lens and awareness about the change in the landscapes. I search for stories about our landscape. I convey my anguish concerning the present, past, and the future also into something tangible which encompass messages of hope to society and the community that follows my art. Through arts, people can be touched by the problems of others. I try to connect my audience to their senses, body, and mind. There is an emotional bond between person and place in most of my artworks. Mahroo Movahedi

You talk often about the "life in between", how does this show in your artwork concretely?

The change in my surroundings, moving from Isfahan, an ever-sunny city, to Switzerland, a country where you rarely see the sun apart from in the short three summer months, has a huge impact on my artwork. In an exhibition in Winterthur for example, I showed in one picture installation the change of colors during a flight from Isfahan to Zurich, through the plane's window. My color palette has completely changed since I came to Switzerland. Mahroo Movahedi

Is this change only about colors?  

Not only, the big shift in my artwork came from the realization, after having lived in Zurich for four months, that I'm sometimes walking over a bridge over the Limmat in Zurich, but in my spirit, I'm crossing a bridge in my hometown Isfahan. It took me four months to connect to the new place as a whole and be present in it. In another exhibition, I reproduced this experience of being present in one location and absent in spirit, physically somewhere, and mentally somewhere else, until you're brought out of this mental state by the sound of the Swiss-German language. I can't say that language was a barrier, but it became a challenge to figure out how to use my native language in my artwork and still make it understandable for the people who don't speak it. In some of my videos, for example, you see me writing in Persian, but you also see a translation of what I'm writing. Mahroo Movahedi

What do you miss the most about Iran? 

The freedom to be spontaneous. Here in Switzerland, everything needs to be planned. I am generally obsessed with details and with creating order in disorder, which you can't do when everything is in its proper place. In Iran, I look for the details in every corner, but here I am mainly inspired by nature. Mahroo Movahedi

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