Art & Culture
Read Time: 7 min

bonds & brushes

Redux Extra May 4, 2022
Reading Time: 7 minutes


The Exhibit 9 Gallery

As Iranian American women artists, who have witnessed a revolution, war, cultural boundaries, migration and identity loss, a we have a lot to share with the world.

Creative and cool, seven women picked up their artistic brushes to paint their identities, memories, losses, struggles and adaptations to their new environments with no creative boundaries. They are sharing their stories, their talents and tenacity not only with other women but for generations to come. Let us hear from seven talented Iranian- American female artists and how they did it.

Sarah Saghar Barzmehri @sarahbarzmehri

As an artist and art curator, have promoted art and artists in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for more than 20 years. Transforming communities through the arts has always been my mission. I have been holding art exhibitions and events in my former Washington, DC gallery and later in my gallery in Potomac, Maryland, while collaborating with different local and national art venues and charities.

In April 2019, invited Iranian American artists to get together and start working at my studio. The idea originated from this notion “as Iranian American women artists, who have witnessed a revolution, war, cultural boundaries, migration and identity loss, we have a lot to share with the world,” Sarah Saghar Barzmehri

Six Iranian born women artists and art lovers (Mitra Mortazavi Lore, Sohayla Vafai, Guita Vafai, Parisa Faghih, Rosa Fakhrai and Roya Ansarian) accepted my invitation and we started working together. In order to work side by side or to collaborate on one project at the time, we had to leave our egos behind and, with them, the need for perfection and control of the outcome. So, our mantra was formed, no attachment to the result and no one would be in charge! We called it our pre-kindergarten, where we could go back to being 4 years old again, and play with new toys and invent new games with joy.

To set a goal beyond our reach, we aimed big: we could work for two years and then who knows where we would end up: New York galleries, Art Basel in Miami, LACMA in LA, or Venice Biennale? It didn’t matter, the journey together was the most important experience. Working together fueled our creative engines, ideas flourished and inspiration filled up the air as our progress gained high speed, beyond our imagination. After a year working together, we met a curator at Mitra M. Lore’s group exhibition, in DC. Nancy Nesvet was interested in our collaboration and asked to visit our studio.

Then, in January 2020, Nancy and I together curated our first art exhibition at the DC Art Center in Washington, D.C. Our exhibition, “Once Upon A Journey” was visited by hundreds of people and was featured in The Washington Post.

During the pandemic, we continued this collaboration either on Zoom, or at my backyard studio. We had our second group exhibition, from May-June, 2021 at Exhibit9 gallery in Potomac, Maryland. The show will be traveling to Pars Place in Vienna, Virginia in September, while E9 Gallery will hold our photo exhibition this October. Who knows what’s next, New York, Miami, LA or Venice? It’s the journey that counts!

Ocean Of Words, Acrylic on canvas Sarah S Barzmehri

Parisa Faghih
Four years ago, it was a difficult time in my life, had been trying to cope with the loss of my beloved brother. During that time, was artistically blocked and was struggling with insomnia and depression. had little to no motivation to paint or pursue any artistic career. Until one day, received a call from my best friend, Sarah. She called me asking if was interested in painting with her. At first, I was hesitant, however, that was my only chance to distract myself from my life tragedy. I took Sarah up on her offer and went to her house to start working at her studio. After 6 months, Sarah invited more artists to join us, and our art sessions became very therapeutic and joyful. With 5 other great artists, we talked, shared life experiences, cried and laughed together. My own suggestion for the group was to work all together on a big piece of canvas/fabric in the Batik technique. So, our collaborative pieces started. We listened to each other, got inspired while painting, collaging and sculpting every Wednesday, for a year.

At the end of that year, DC Art Center hosted our first exhibition after over a decade of absence from the art scene of Washington, DC. Right after that, we were getting ready for our trip to New York, when the pandemic struck. Since then, we have continued our projects together at Sarah’s backyard, no matter how hot or cold the weather was. We officially became a group of seven artists working together under any circumstances. Working with this group of friends not only revived my passion for the arts, but also gave me a family that love and trust. This new spark of life also helped me to redevelop my own individual projects: illustrating Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) stories, which had abandoned for four years.

I have learned that the key to a meaningful life and good psychological health is the ability to express ourselves. This belief has helped me during the most challenging time of my life. When my mother passed away, it was hard not to think of her. She had given me so much to remember. I was grieving and didn’t know how to use this feeling to celebrate her uniqueness and our relationship.

It was exactly one month after her death in April of 2019 that Sarah, my longtime friend came to my house to express her condolences. As we talked about our lives, she talked about her plan to gather her artist friends in her studio to create art and an opportunity to share their stories as Iranian born women. took this invitation as a chance to grieve creatively, however, I was concerned about the level of my artistic ability compared to other members of the group. When I shared my feelings with Sarah, she reassured me by describing her project as one with “no attachment to the result, it’s just another game in the arena of life to play and explore.”

The experience was amazing. As Julia Cameron stated in her book, The Artist’s Way, one of our chief needs as a creative being, is support. In Sarah’s studio, we were creating while supporting each other beyond my expectation. It inspired me and amplified my inner voice to free up my creative force. The collaboration opened the window to new horizons and possibilities.

Art has always been an important aspect of my everyday life. Living a healthy and artistic life has been my priority. believe the way I lead my life affects my physical and psychological well-being. Now, in my retirement, – can pursue a new joyful path, to be an artist.

Mitra Mortazavi Lore

About 2 years ago Sarah & were talking about how to revive our artistic lives. Then one day, she called me inviting me to join her and other friends to work together. In my turn, I invited two other mutual friends, who | thought would be great assets to our circle.

A week later four of us came together at my house. It was a very special day. We talked about how to start and manage our sessions together. We shared different ideas, but in the end, it was being on the road that would show us the way. A couple of days later, three other friends joined us. We were back on track, making art together at Sarah’s studio! She told us nothing was serious. We were giggling and playing with a lot of freedom and fun.

Our gatherings became the highlight of the week.We decided to work on one piece at a time and called it “collaborative art,” which brought us even closer! Soon, our creativity flourished and we were inspiring each other. Our synergy and creativity was magical.

Several of us decided to go back to art. started making steel sculptures again, what a joy! On a sunny fall day we decided to wrap ourselves in canvases we had painted and posed in the woods. The scene was so interesting that it brought one of us out of retirement from professional photography.

Human beings are creative! We found our way to create by being together. Don’t you love to follow your innate ability and create?

Sohayla Vafai
A professional artist with years in making artistic statements through mixed media sculptures and installations, Sohayla carries a great deal of creativity under her belt. To her, joining this group was a different experience. It wasn’t just doing art, it was about getting connected to other Iranian American artists in the area. She felt her creativity had room to grow again after some years of being dormant. Getting back in the field with lots of enthusiasm and feeling the energy from the group warmed her heart again and motivated her to come back to her creative senses.

Guita Vafai
An art instructor in sculpture and design, at Montgomery College in Maryland for many years, Guita is a high caliber artist. She joined the group sharing her artistic experience and exhibited her splendid piece at the DC Art Center with the group in the, “Once Upon A Journey” group exhibition.

My Grandmother & Sun, mixed media sculpture, Guita Vafai

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