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Maryam Hoseini's Every Day Abstractions

Video by Art21

How does a painter translate the real into the abstract?

From her Brooklyn studio, artist Maryam Hoseini explores the spaces in between painting and drawing, figuration and abstraction, and the personal experiences embedded in her work and the multiple interpretations viewers can bring to it. As she flips through her pencil drawings and resumes work on an acrylic painting, the artist recounts her early interest in drawing classes and the strong, female art teacher in her native Iran that inspired her. Hoseini's current work depicts fragmented—often female—bodies floating in abstract, flattened architectural spaces, in suggestive, but open-ended narratives.

With her work shown at major exhibitions around the world, Hoseini explains the concept behind her recently commissioned series of paintings for an exhibition coinciding with the 58th Venice Biennale. A reimagining of the famous 12th-century poem about Laylah and Majnun, Hoseini's paintings focus on the female character in the legend, a woman who, as the artist puts it, "was banned from speaking and desiring what she really wanted."

This sense of fear and anxiety, punctuated with strength and humor, pervade Hoesini's work. The artist tracks the evolution of her style, coming to the conclusion that her choice to depict fragmented, headless bodies and fractured, illegible spaces reflects her "own personal experiences and life as an immigrant and as a person who is not even able to travel to my country and to return to my work and life here in America."

Maryam Hoseini (b. 1988, Tehran, Iran) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about the artist at: https://art21.org/artist/maryam-hoseini

CREDITS | Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director & Editor: Veena Rao. Cinematography: Veena Rao. Additional Camera: Anne Sofie Norskov and Rafael Salazar. Music: Wesley Powell. Color Correction: Jerome Thélia. Sound Design & Mix: Gisela Fullà-Silvestre. Animation: Stephanie Andreou and Andy Cahill. Design & Graphics: Chips. Assistant Editor: Jasmine Cannon. Artwork Courtesy: Maryam Hoseini, Green Art Gallery, and Rachel Uffner Gallery. Thanks: Danielle Brock, Allison Cooper, Cut + Measure, John Elammar, and Alex Laviola. © Art21, Inc. 2019. All rights reserved. "New York Close Up" is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by individual contributors.
Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

[Gowanus, Brooklyn] So much of being an artist depends on daily life, daily interactions, daily politics. And so much of the work is about representation of self. ["Maryam Hoseini's Every Day Abstractions"] The first time that I realized that making drawings is something I really love is when I was thirteen. I had this teacher at school, and the way that she was teaching-- and also she's such a strong being, as a woman in a place like Iran-- that I think I was so interested in that. I vividly remember the time that I was like, "I want to just go to these drawing classes." "I want to keep making work." And I had piles and piles of papers at my parents' house. I always feel like I'm a drawer. I start with it, I make some painting, and then I make drawing on top of it. So it's always a back and forth. So I was asked to make work about this famous poem, "Layla and Majnun." It's about a forbidden love. I developed this series, "Secrets Between Her and Her Shadow." I was more interested in the female character, because apparently no one was paying attention to her, because it was all about how Majnun lost his mind. I was so curious about Laylah as this very vulnerable female that was banned from speaking and even desiring what she really wanted. I think so much of the work, it's a mix of humor and fear. There are moments that you really laugh even though you're afraid of a lot of things. In my earlier paintings, the space the figures are located is more legible. For the past few years, I have really used that legibility. I have chosen to present the bodies without the head, because of the politics around identity. These fractured spaces and fragmented bodies, that is somehow the reflection of my own personal experiences and life, as an immigrant and as a person who is not even able to travel to my country, and to return to my work and life here in America. I mean, these bodies they have anxiety. But also on the other side, they are very strong. I am giving them power. I constantly think about the body interactions inside of the painting and the body relationship to the physical space around it. I'm interested in the space between painting and drawing, public and private. That in-between space provides some sort of openness for the bodies to move fluidly, for the viewers' interpretations. The presence of people there, it almost completes this-- or builds this-- performance there.