PRESS: Samaneh Roghani in conversation with Damaris Athene

Source: Damaris Athene

Damaris Athene:  Could you start off by telling me a bit about yourself?

Samaneh Roghani:  I’m from Iran, Tehran. I’m 37. In Iran, I got my bachelor of photography. In 2012, I moved to Malmö in Sweden. Here, I got my other bachelor BFA and then MFA at Malmö Art Academy. I have my studio here and I’m trying to establish myself here as an immigrant. It’s quite tough.

DA:  Yeah, and it’s been nine years you’ve been there?

SR:  It’s good as here people are interested in art, and especially art that is not common, like from another country. But also it’s difficult, because I am an immigrant so I’m not really part of society, even if I think I am after nine years.

DA:  That sounds really difficult. What made you choose Sweden?

SR:  I could come to Sweden. So I just took a chance.

DA:  Are you able to go back to Iran?

SR:  I can go back to Iran, but I don’t want to do that because I don’t dare to go back. Who can guarantee I go, and I don’t end up in prison.

DA:  That’s really tough. Could you say a bit more about your practice?

SR:  I’m really interested in making installation and sometimes they’re interactive. Photography and video are always part of the installations. I use different materials, techniques, and it depends like how I imagined my future work.

DA:  What ideas that are behind these installations?

SR:  I focus on sociopolitical issues. I share my stories from the country I come from and other similar countries in the Middle East. In Iran we are breathing politics, everything happening around the world – boom – directly affects our lives. I have to read to know what is happening there and keep this connection while I’m living in peace and democracy here.

(in the foreground) For The Silenced, 2019, Photo installation, analogue self-portraits printed on ceramic tiles coated with liquid emulsion, glass, water, ink, 150cm × 80cm × 113 cm (in the background) For The Forgotten, 2020, Self-portraits printed on ceramic tiles coated with liquid emulsion, natural fibre ropes hanging at different heights in the whole roomDocumentation from ‘Future Watch’ exhibition at Kulturhuset in StockholmPhoto courtesy of the artist

(in the foreground) For The Silenced, 2019, Photo installation, analogue self-portraits printed on ceramic tiles coated with liquid emulsion, glass, water, ink, 150cm × 80cm × 113 cm

(in the background) For The Forgotten, 2020, Self-portraits printed on ceramic tiles coated with liquid emulsion, natural fibre ropes hanging at different heights in the whole room

Documentation from ‘Future Watch’ exhibition at Kulturhuset in Stockholm

Photo courtesy of the artist

DA:  I guess you have a third person perspective from not being in the country anymore. You can look back in a different way.

SR:  Exactly. That’s true.

DA:  What motivates you to work with different media and techniques in this installation format?

SR:  Living such a country, my life was always limited. Like, don’t do that. Don’t do that. Illegal. Illegal. Back in Iran, I only worked with photography, hanging on the wall. Then moving here, I studied fine art and didn’t want any limitation. I want to think widely. With small projects you cannot say what I want to say. I use different techniques and media to be able to make the images real. It takes so long for me to make work as I’m always using new techniques and materials.

DA:  How do you explore social and political issues, such as the injustices against women, in your work?

SR:  Right now I’m really focusing on women’s rights, because before I moved to Sweden, I didn’t know I had rights. In the first years, I would be like, what, I can live like that? For me it’s is very important to share what we women from those countries have been through. With the current situation and racism increasing and I think it is important people get to know what is happening. With media news we don’t get this information. By using my own story, I believe I can show a very small part of how life is in the other part of the world.

DA:  Has your use of self portraiture changed the way that you relate to yourself or your body?

SR:  Oh yes, very much.

DA:  In what way?

SR:  When I started self portraiture in 2007 or 2008 I was not very aware about women’s rights, human rights. I could understand that I had problems by digging and finding them. I bring them into self portraiture as a reflection of society, because of the way you used to live or the situation you used to live in. Making self portraits became therapy for me.

Image of the video ‘Reenactment’, 2018, Video installation, 16 mm film, digitally projected on a scarf, 2:32 minutesPhoto courtesy of the artist

Image of the video ‘Reenactment’, 2018, Video installation, 16 mm film, digitally projected on a scarf, 2:32 minutes

Photo courtesy of the artist

DA:  That sounds amazing to have that opportunity for self reflection. What barriers have you faced to making art?

SR:  I think of course many, but the most important one is censorship. Censorship is a big thing in Iran. As a woman, I need to cover my hair. I think it’s even more difficult for writers, artists, musicians, because you need to find a way to say what you want to say without getting in trouble and ending up in prison, or even worse. You need to add many layers of censorship to your work and it can become very abstract. Even now, living in Sweden, I still have these fears, especially as my family are still living in Iran.

DA:  I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to try and double think everything you’re doing. Has anyone you know been sent to prison because of their work?

SR:  Yes.

DA:  That must be scary.

SR:  Very scary.

DA:  What happened to them?

SR:  They’re out now but it’s pretty common for people to be sent to prison. I haven’t lived there for 9 years so perhaps many more are now in prison. It’s hard to get information out. Prison has become a place for intellectuals and journalists. That’s why I’m working with these issues. It’s very important for me to bring it up and share it.

DA:  Yeah, so people know what’s happening. When people are able to see your work, what do you want them to get from it?

SR:  I want them to understand how life is and to understand immigration. I want to be with my family and work in my country, like anyone else. I ended up here because the situation I had. With installation, I think it’s easier for people to literally feel it. I work with material that you can smell or touch.

DA:  Yeah, having that sensory interactive experience stays in your mind a lot more. Have you had any responses to your work that stand out?

SR:  Yeah, a lot during the last month with the exhibition I’m currently in. People direct contacted me, saying they didn’t know the situation was that extreme. They read the news but it’s very vague. Some of them got goosebumps because it’s so scary. The other day, I was just showing my website to a friend and she was like, Oh, can you give me a little bit of space to breathe? I’m happy with that, not that I’m happy to make people sad. Just…

DA:  That it has that impact?

SR:  Yeah.

Samaneh spraying on ceramics made for the work ‘For The Silenced’, 2019

Photo courtesy of the artist

DA:  It means that what you’re doing is working. I hope to be able to see you installations in real life one day. What’s your most memorable experience of art?

SR:  When I was 20, or even younger, I went to a Museum of Contemporary Art Museum in Tehran with my friend. I had just started art school. There was an installation where you could see your shadows, but bigger. We were so happy and it was empty. We stayed for more than half an hour, playing, making, imitating. We laughed a lot. When we came out, we saw a lot of people were watching our shadows from the other side. I felt very ashamed and just wanted to leave. People people started laughing when we came out. It was kind of a performance for them. We thought it was private. You wouldn’t do that as a young girl in public in a country like Iran. It hit me, Oh my god, how limited we are. I don’t remember the artist unfortunately. That art actually opened my eyes.

DA:  Thank you for sharing that story. Whose work inspires you?

SR:  Mahmoud Bakhshi, an Iranian artist who used to be my favourite. Also, William Kentridge. I really appreciate his work. It’s very inspiring. Afshin Chizari too.

DA:  What projects have you been working on recently?

SR:  Right now I’m making a photo installation. It’s about how, in the news, we don’t really get information about things happening in different parts of the world, like countries that are not interesting for the West. They are poor, there is war there, we don’t want to know. In the end it’s like they are censoring it. Like last month, things were happening in Palestine but there wasn’t much news about it. Or like, what is happening right now in Iran. Nobody knows. It’s such a bad situation there.

DA:  What else is in the installation apart from photos?

SR:  It’s hard to explain, because I need to see if it works. I’m using 12 kilometres of fishing lines! It took so long to decide on this material.

DA:  Wow!

Barzakh (Limbo), 2018, Video installation, 7 meter corridor, hanging ropes, 1:03 minutes on loopDocumentation from Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in CopenhagenPhoto courtesy of the artist

Barzakh (Limbo), 2018, Video installation, 7 meter corridor, hanging ropes, 1:03 minutes on loop

Documentation from Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition at Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen

Photo courtesy of the artist

SR:  *laughs* Yeah. It’s a little bit hard to work with.

DA:  What will you do with the fishing line?

SR:  The fishing line will hang. I have an image in my head of how it will look but during the process it will change.

DA:  Very tricky to work with because you can’t really see it! *laughs*

SR:  *laughs* Yeah.

DA:  Where will that installation be shown?

SR:  Hopefully in an exhibition at Krognoshuset in Lund.

DA:  Where’s the show that you have on at the moment?

SR:  In Stockholm. I’m showing my work ‘Silence for the Forgotten’ and ‘For The Forgotten’ at Kulturhuset. It’s a group exhibition called ‘Future Watch’ with 10 artists. It’s curated by Ashik Zaman and Koshik Zaman, two twin brothers. I’m also doing a residency at the moment in Malmö which will finish at the end of October. It’s the Unicorn residency, for artists at risk.

DA:  So you’ve got lots of stuff going on!

SR:  Yeah, I’m so happy! I also have an exhibition in September at Odenplan metro station in Stockholm. In the 80s they created a platform for artists to exhibit there. This is really important for me. Only certain people will go to galleries, but then in metro stations everybody would pass. This was most important thing to happen for my activism. So I need to work hard to Yeah. There’s no time plus I have one and a half year old daughter. It’s a bit tricky now.

DA:  How much time are you able to be in the studio?

SR:  I try to come in the morning until five. I need at least two hours with my daughter everyday. It’s a very intense time right now.

DA:  It sounds like it! Do you have an idea of what you’d like to work on after that or are you just too focused on your current projects?

SR:  Yeah I’m very focused right now. I need to make almost 8000 holes for the fishing lines. I cannot think about anything right now, my life is about making holes in wood.

DA:  Wow, that’s a lot of holes! Do you often need to do very repetitive tasks to make your installations?

SR:  Yeah

DA:  Do you enjoy that?

SR:  Oh I love it. When I working I’m also thinking about about the project and what it’s about. It’s always dark. It’s about humanity and how some people don’t have rights, get killed, executed, all these things. So it’s quite heavy. To do something for this issues makes me happy.

DA:  Yeah, and feel like you’re making some change in whatever way you can.

SR:  I wish I could make a change, but I think I’m too small to do that.

DA:  Educating people about it is making a change, I would argue.

SR:  Yeah, even if one person thinks about it, it’s good.

DA:  True! Thank you so much. It was lovely meeting you.

SR:  Thank you.