Raheleh Zomorodinia is an Iranian artist and photographer who now lives in the Bay Area. She studied Multimedia at Berkeley City College and received her MFA in New Genres at San Francisco Art Institute. Her works have been exhibited internationally. In her narrative she reflects on moving from repressive Iranian society to one of the most liberal cities in America – as well as on how she copes with painful loss by creating art.
Finding myself has been a life long journey. The complexity of my feelings about my training culturally and religiously is stark. I am at odds with how I see myself in relations to my surrounding. I overcome my anguish through my art and express myself in the light I want to see the world.
As a Muslim woman from Iranian upbringings I had to sacrifice many of my desires for my family’s sake and reinvent myself through my beloved passion: art. I started working collaboratively with the group of Iranian artists in Iran, Open5, that helped me greatly and was therapeutic to my agony and grief.
I left Iran six years ago to have an exhibition in the most unique state of Colorado, and now I live in and love Berkeley, California. My love for California defines who I am today. I love the region, the ingrained beauty of the people I am surrounded by, and the nature of the land. The way all these captivate me is only truly expressed via my art.
Because my work has always been focused on the investigation of “self” concept, nature appealed to me very early in the pursuit of my passion, and helped me discover myself. Communicating with environmental artists, I embarked upon being a vegetarian. This exploration combined with my love for nature single-handedly shapes the way I see human impact on the environment and the eco-system.
I create space and use the mediums of photography and video to document intuitive moments of time spent within a specific space. Through this I make visible what is in my mind and reflect my emotional, psychological and subconscious experiences inspired by surroundings. I do all of this in the most beautiful place, California.
Immigrating to the United States was a blessing in many disguises. Getting used to a new culture, language, and people is hard at first, but also an essential step towards knowing oneself. I familiarized myself with a different culture, and having a multifaceted view channeled my inner self to positive ways and living. Coming to the United States helped me overcome my past and see the world in a perspective of my own. If the Iranian people weren’t so painfully controlled in every aspect of their lives, Iran could once again be an invigoratingly important part of the world’s civilization.
I am tired of obligations, legislations, and rules to build moral philosophy. I stand up against the Do’s and Don’ts of political, religious, and traditional norms that have perpetrated violence. I am tired of impositions that supposedly help a build moral philosophy. The same philosophy also gives birth to enormous turmoil and carnage in the name of religion and its followers.
The United States has taught me how to explore myself through the gaze of others. My artwork is deeply informed by my cultural background, religion, and geo-political happenings. I borrow ritual and nature as well as humor, and integrate these contradictory concepts in my performances to visualize my unique struggles as a Muslim woman. A portion of my work shows the displacement after immigration, subjugation, loss, anger, hate, fear, and love. It also helps me connect with my past in a spiritual level and brings autonomy to what has been a deeply controlled life.
Art also helped me to recover ‘self’ after the sorrow of my husband’s death. An American friend asked about my past and whether I have a boyfriend now. I explained that my husband had passed away years ago yet I am not interested in any new relationship. She couldn’t believe my answer. But today I have the spirituality to satisfy my needs after living alone for six years. My artwork helps me to overcome loneliness without my husband.
As a Muslim woman I have learned to live in limitation and control my desires. After so long practicing, it becomes a habit. I don’t have my family next to me in the USA pushing me for another marriage, and I feel so strong on my own that I don’t feel the need for any partner. This is all because of art as a journey for me, an investigation of ‘self’.
Today in America my artistic practice reflects my struggles. I believe this has been my journey, a connection between suffering and creation. Through suffering, something spirituality higher came into being.