Thoughts arising …

..that came out of the launch evening of the shape of things last month and I have been so busy making that I haven’t had the chance to write them down since.

A question asked at the launch by Raimi Gdamosi, which I am grateful for as it brought up a lot for me …something like- ‘in the face of the diverse practices of the artists on the panel (ie the 8 Shape..artists), are Non-European makers always going to be determined by their ostensible Otherness?’

I have a discomfort around the focus on Otherness. I fear it can be limiting in its entrenchment in a definition of Self within a particular cultural terrain. I understand that it has been and continues to be useful, essential even, in the face of erasure, where there is a question of survival of one’s culture in the balance through migration, displacement etc. But I don’t come from that kind of background, I only experienced the Iranian Revolution second-hand, through the lives of our relatives who fled and came to live with us as I was growing up in suburban Tunbridge Wells.. When I visited Iran in 1992 and 1998 I was warmly welcomed like a guest, a novelty, the beloved daughter of my now legendary mother.

When I state I am a British –Iranian artist, I am acknowledging my sources, not underlining my otherness.

Otherness…in contrast to what ? to what has been a white mainstream, but is no longer, because it is all being beautifully mixed up…???.I am second generation, hybrid, mongrel….. so not Iranian enough to be an Iranian artist and invited to that party, but somewhere in between, enjoying the new colours I can weave on a collective cloth that is so interwoven with ‘other’ influences it is impossible to see where one thread finishes and another begins. And so, the emphasis on otherness, on separateness, is for me not always a concern. Finding the universal through the personal is what I am seeking. Despite this I am aware that I use an approach in my work that draws very closely on my Iranian heritage – the metaphor of textile and its aesthetic, the desire to mourn and self-disclose on a mass scale and connect with masses of people I may never meet (a tradition maintained these days by Iranian bloggers, who have the added element of risk and survival to contend with). The use of poetic language, of communal rituals that are intended to create connection and self-reflection…

So it seems right to show that these are rooted in someplace other than the South East of England. And for that reason I embrace the chance to highlight this through the shape of things. And I truly hope that The Gifts will transcend the biographical material it is rooted in and strike a universal note to those who come …


I have just finished the 6th of 8 mass gifting workshops here in Bristol this week. There has been a real range of groups- from primary school (10-11 year olds at Golden Valley and Knowle Park), to adult artists at The Studio Upstairs and the third session with older members of The People’s Panel at the Museum. I realize how flexible the framework of this project is for engaging people in the different themes of the work most appropriate to them.

With the younger ones, both in and out of the museum, I highlighted the parallel between everyday objects in the collection and their own contributions, pointing to future times when they will become ‘the ancestors’ and their chosen gifts will be ancient artefacts.

They seemed to respond very viscerally to the idea that these objects were being reborn through The Gifts. Today, two of the children at Knowle Park came up to me with their wrapped objects to show me that they had left a small hole in one corner so that the object (in both cases a first toy) could breathe…

They all seemed to think very carefully about what they were writing on their cards, knowing that it would be on display . I think the physical act of wrapping and binding has been having an effect, its finality and also the transforming nature of the materials we are using – mainly muslin, silks and recycled sari yarns. It has felt at every session that there is a kind of three dimensional form of painting going on , with the binding being a very real form of individual mark making.

Other themes I have been drawing out, especially with the adult participants, have been my own personal process of grief and healing and how it informed this project, and how I have developed the seed idea into what is going to be a very large -scale artwork…it seems to be that people are responding powerfully to the concept of the Gifts, and enjoying the haptic connection with the project through the object wrapping, underlined by written reflections on the personal meaning to them of what they are donating.

I have also enjoyed broadening ideas out with the primary school children of what art can be in terms of both mediums used and the closing of the gap between personal processes and public art.

Images to come later.


Last week I was up at the Museum, facilitating a mass Gifting session with groups from Backwell school in the rear hall of the Museum. It felt good to be out in the open rather than in a closed room, more connected. I brought in references to certain objects at the Museum which I realize have had an impact on my thinking process in this project.

The main one is a child’s ball- a scrawny object made of sackcloth with a bit of rope tied around it – and I find parallels to it in terms of the context of the objects I am being given. I realize that this collection I am randomly curating – is acting as a counterpoint to the Museums collection of artefacts which hold only objects which have been carefully sourced and chosen by specialist curators. The only criteria for The Gifts is that the object donated has to have had personal emotional resonance for the Giver and not be over a certain size.

So, I realize that certain levels of meanings of my work don’t become clear until it starts making itself… In preparing for the panel presentation this week for the launch of the shape of things (which I will write on in my next post), I saw how, once again, the theme of death is a constant. This time it’s the idea of the death of the object and the ritual of wrapping and binding these objects that enables a process of reincarnation to occur. They are certainly being utterly transformed and it’s only the display of their narratives that will give any clue to their previous lives.

An artist friend, Ivan Pope, came by the studio the other day and we discussed the form of the narrative display which is still under consideration. A Book was initially favoured , especially by the curator, as it is a reference to the Register Book used by them to enter objects into their collection. But I feel more and more that this limits access to only a few people being able to browse it at any one time. Ivan suggested an idea that I had originally had but ditched a while ago, of a wall display of index cards that are effectively the narrative interface of the collection.

I am getting clearer that I am not concerned with people being able to individually access information on a particular object, and that this is a singular piece of work – a multitude of objects that have effectively become one. Although each object will be numbered, the numbers won’t always be clearly visible, I want to leave some incompletion , some space for those looking to make connections…I went to see the Ed Ruscha at the Hayward last week and I liked his quote around this : ‘The most an artist can do is to start something and not give the whole story. That’s what makes the mystery’


I am in the ‘full-blooded’ stage of the project. Was in Bristol last week, a lot happened – major installation design decisions, planning for the catalogue. presentations to teachers, gifting sessions at the Museum with a group of students doing the Creative Media Diploma at Backwell School.

I stayed at my sister’s house in Backwell, and with her and my brother-in-law Mark’s help (he is the school connection as he works as a lead practitioner in the CMD for the region) , we worked out how to translate my colour palette for the 900 objects in the main piece into actual number of objects per colour and metres of fabric required. I had been trying to do this for a while without much success, so when we came up with the final numbers I was in sweet shock for a while as I saw that every number relating to every single colour is divisible by 9 again! 9 seems to have become a living entity and be following me around, toying with my head..

Mark unearthed around 30 objects for the project to wrap–most of them childrens toys .My nieces were there, deconstructing their early childhoods as they debated and figured out the detail of each item’s history…

I was due to give what I had been told by the museum was only a presentation to Mark’s school group the next day . However when I got to my sisters house I realised that there had been a communication blip and the students were bringing objects to wrap the next morning..I, however I hadn’t brought any materials. I perversely like this kind of situation. We hatched a plan and got the students involved in sourcing fabrics, cutting, stripping and logging as well as wrapping and experiencing the adrenalin rush of being in production of a live artwork.

Mark has since set up a lot more sessions with different school groups and I now know what I need to do to be prepared. I enjoyed sharing my work and approach with them, I have started to accept that my self-criticism that I talk too quickly and jam too much in is in fact exaggerated in my head and just part of my style and the more I accept that the more I will slow down anyway.

Example of objects given so far…coming in thick and fast:

A bunch of keys to a recently repossessed house.

A child’s toothbrush

A photo of an ex-lover

A gold watch strap of a recently deceased partner

A ninetndo wii (broken)

A screenplay

A jar of gold size with gilder’s tip and gold leaf.

Three small knitted dolls, each symblising a lost child through miscarriage

A photo taken by my mother of a group of her Iranian friends, sent to me by one of them

An ipod mini

A large seed pod

A jar of shells and stones, collected over 30 years ago by parents long departed.