Interview with Somaye Farhan - by Nadia Trudel

May 23rd, 2023

Somaye Farhan is a Montreal based multi-disciplinary artist from Tehran who is currently completing her undergraduate studies at Concordia in Studio Arts. Through performance, video, and sculpture, Farhan explores feminism, identity, and connection, particularly as they pertain to Iranian women.  She has exhibited her works in Kathmandu, Nepal at Siddhartha Art Gallery and at VAV gallery in Montreal, Quebec.

NT:What were you up to before studying at Concordia University?

I emigrated to Canada in 2016. I didn't have any experience in art. I had a Bachelor in French language, like French and Persian translation. So I didn't have any portfolio. I went to college. And so for two years. I did one year of graphic designing and I found out that it's not my thing. I changed it to visual arts. And here I am.

NT: Did you grow up creative?

SF: Now you know the situation in Iran,  a woman doing art is not something that the government likes. It's very difficult. Actually, I didn't see the possibility. We had a lot of censorship. I didn't see the possibility to study arts  in Iran. But I have friends that stayed and they tried but finally they also emigrated, it's not an easy medium in Iran. So in 2012 I met my partner when we traveled by bicycle in Asia for two-three years. We were traveling by bicycle, and after that journey immigrating to Canada, I found that the only thing that I can do is art because of that journey. You're on a bicycle, you become like a bird. Art was the only medium that I found that could satisfy me. I also found that we can make a difference with art.

NT: How has meditation impacted your art?

Meditation was my first motivation to study Fine Arts. After my journey on the bicycle and meditating in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand, my life transformed. When I immigrated to Canada, I found out that being an artist is the closest job to being a meditator. Creating, observing the world with attention, being curious, present and patient are some of the qualities that artists and meditators share. Therefore, making art for me is meditation and meditating is art. Meditating, practicing being present and opening my awareness to the world around me allow me to create a space for creating art. I can say meditation is the foundation for artmaking for me.

NT: What are the main themes in your work?

SF: My works engage with subjects relating to women. In my recent projects, I concentrate on exploring the world from the perspective of Iranian women whose rights have been overlooked. Social and gender inequality, feminism, ontological approaches, and identity are the themes I have researched and worked on. In the process of my work, I use sculpture, performance, and video as my main mediums to raise questions on social, political and cultural issues.

NT: Have you been able to connect with the Iranian community in Montreal?

SF: Yes, and this connection got deeper after the “Women-Life-Freedom” movement.

NT: How did it feel to perform “This is not a scarf”? What kind of feedback did you get?

SF: The experience of me as the performer was being able to present my feelings, my thoughts, what I am experiencing and being a space for the participants to be present with their experience. This performance aims to create the space for the audience to connect with objects on the level of experience and emotion which is a level deeper than thoughts. When the participants tie us with a scarf, how do they feel? What is their experience? That was very important for me. Some of the participants were tying the scarf around my mouth which made me feel suffocated: this was a reminder to myself and the women of my country and how it feels not to be allowed to self-express. Some of the participants were tying the scarf around my neck; I felt a barrier to breathing properly. Feeling suffocated again. Some of them were tying the scarf around my wrists and ankles: which prevented me from moving. Some of them were tying the scarf around my head covering all my hair: it made me feel ugly.

When the audience participates in the performance, they experienced having power over someone, the experience of objectifying another person, and the experience of ownership and domination. And the vulnerability of the performer created the space for the participant to get present and authentic with their feelings. The participant has the opportunity to contemplate this object “the scarf” from a new perspective, they may start to feel what a scarf can do to the other person who is not willingly wearing it.

NT: Do you ever feel nervous about performing in public?

SF: It depends. Public interventions are unpredictable and anything can happen. I feel nervous since everything is out of my control and I need to surrender to what is happening at the moment.

NT: Are you a collaborative artist?

SF: I am. I enjoy making art in the community with other artists. It’s so rewarding when we complete one artwork altogether in a group. I had this experience in February 2019 when our team of three artists won the Snow Sculpture competition after 45 hours of snow sculpting in -35 Celsius in Rivière du Loup, Quebec. I believe without teamwork it was impossible to complete the sculpture in that time frame. It was such an unforgettable experience.

NT: Can you walk me through the step-by-step process of putting together a project like ThisConnection?

SF: For this video installation, the emigration from nature is represented by a long take of a performance in a desert in Iran. The first step was to film my sister walking in a desert in Iran, which my partner (Soha Ebrahimzandi) filmed on his journey to Iran and brought the sand of that desert to Canada. I did perform with the sand in front of a green screen and overlaid my performance on the video of Neda walking in the desert. In the final installation, this landscape is projected onto a 10 by-5.6-meter wall. In the foreground, there are two LED screens 43” positioned vertically. Each of the artists (Soha Ebrahimzandi and me) is displayed on one of the LED screens. For the images of LED screens, we first filmed the background image in Montreal, then we filmed ourselves in front of the green screen and overlayed our film looking at each other on the background image of Montreal. For the sound, we recorded our audio in the recording room and play it from two speakers “left” and “right” in the installation. The LED screens are placed with a gap between them in the installation, so one can easily walk through them. The individual LED sets symbolize the separation of the two although they are seemingly facing and gazing at each other. Finally, the two small analogue TVs in the middle ground are showing an extreme closeup of a pair of eyes gazing straight back at the spectator. Each of the eyes is filmed separately.

NT: Are you interested in music? I saw your performance for Twirling into Nothingness where you used a Daff and Setar.

SF: Yes, “Twirling into Nothingness” was a performance about ancestral memory. I emigrated from memories, ancestral myths and stories of my country to Canada in the hope of liberating myself from the chain of the predicaments of my culture.  The act of avoiding my past came at the cost of disassociating myself completely from not only the sufferings of an imposed culture but also the possible gifts.  I gradually opened up to a new possibility of creating a future without carrying my past into it. As a gift from my ancestors, for this performance, I used Daff /daf/, ( A Persian percussion instrument) as the main object, and the sound of Setar /səˈtär/(a string musical instrument from Iran).

NT: As a multidisciplinary artist, are there any other mediums and talents that you're interested in exploring and adding to your skill set?

SF: Comic books are something that…because of that journey that I did by bicycle, I really want to create something and share what I experienced in that journey. You can communicate very profound subjects through comics. My goal is to make a difference. Creating a more balanced and just world.

Find out more about Somaye’s work and projects on her website: https://somayefarhan.net/

An undergraduate
feminist art & art history