Hossein Edalatkhah (b. 1979) is an NY based Iranian born artist working with various range of mediums and covering a wide range themes around sexuality, politics and religion. His use of traditional Persian elements, figures, symbols and text blend into each other in a poetic way. He interprets all these elements in a unique way and presents them in a contemporary language. Hossein’s oeuvre reflects not only his cultural heritage but also the trauma that resulted from his past. Introduced by a mutual friend at Spring Break Art Fair in New York we meet with Hossein a week after at his cozy studio in Upper East. He greets me smiling at the door then we sit around the flower filled coffee table to talk about his art practice and recent works.
Y.V: The paper boat is something iconic from our childhood. What does the paper boat in your recent paintings series “House Built on Water” embody?
H.E: Paper boat depiction as a sailor’s hat on the figures is reminiscent to the ones we made and played with as kids. The floating boats in my paintings actually symbolize a house rather than a boat because I travel a lot. I feel like a snail carrying it’s shell and to me that shell is the paper boat.
Y.V: We often witness almost a tangible shift in artists’ perception when they are faced with environmental change. How did moving to New York influence your art practice?
H.E: Since I moved to New York I have been seeing and looking at things with a different vision and here it became a cubic perspective. Time flies and what is left behind from centuries is architecture and art. Most of the paintings I have created in New York are portraits realized in cubic forms. I have travelled to many places but New York is a very different experience for me, it is a high-spirited setting that accommodates people with different backgrounds. Whenever I am walking the streets, I notice so many voices in several languages floating in an environment filled with concrete, glass and cubical forms.
Y.V: Your paintings seem to have vivid, dense layers and your tile paintings almost appear as mosaics. Can you talk about the experience you are trying to create for your audience?
H.E: I use acrylic in a way that makes it appear as an oil painting. I used to only work with oil painting however I had some health issues and I had to discontinue. Once I switched to acrylic I started adding other mediums in order to get that oily vibrant color and texture. Mostly my tile paintings are mistaken for real ceramic tiles; my goal is to make them in a way that they appear as real tiles by drawing on epoxy and coating with transparent resin.
I don’t want to get away from our past; rather I want to include our current time. By depicting bird and floral patterns in charcoal and gold engravings, I like to display the contrast between the past and the present, what is classic and what is modern. By incorporating cement and gold with different materials, I wanted to create a similar contrast between the past and present, the ornate details from history combined with the cold modernism of the new century.
I want my pieces to create emotions in people and force them to think; therefore, I combine traditional ornaments with unconventional objects. I want the viewer to question my work and to be surprised at first glance.
You are an artist with a burden; distress inevitably pulls us towards discomforting subjects. How do you challenge political and cultural subjects with your art?
I try to challenge different cultures with my art. I don’t want the vast darkness to cover the beautiful heritages that survived to this day. I am not using nudity to highlight sexuality rather my intention is to challenge people to think more about their backgrounds and history.
Even though my art has been liked and well received over the past years in the Middle East, people still feel uncomfortable when they are confronted with what I portray, they question the contrast between the works which pushes them to the edge.
Challenging gay sexuality and women’s rights in Iran was not easy and as it received more attention, it offended the government more and more.
For example my phallic series made with Iranian carpets with bold sentences were intended to criticize the stolen antique goods from Iran by Russians, the British, and the French a couple hundred years ago. I wrote all these slang sexual sentences alongside the phallic shaped carpets to bring attention to these lost artifacts.
My other recent work “Ashoora” is inspired by a ceremony where people read Islamic poems while self-inflicting pain with chains. To me this whole thing was daunting and I portrayed it in my painting almost in a fetishistic way.
In my “My Body, My Biography, My Country” series, I made a nude self-portrait and worked over it trying to reflect on the radical movements and the lack of freedom. The project turned out to be successful but it was found offensive. Although my work has spread to more galleries and gained exposure, I knew I couldn’t survive any longer in Iran as an artist so I left.
Words do vanish and for an outspoken person like yourself, you clearly aim to solidify your thoughts. Is this what art and being an artist means to you?
Since childhood, I always wanted to be an influential artist and my main motivation was to speak out to the world about the political issues that have been taking place not only in my country but in others as well. One of the biggest problems of our day is people forgetting the things they go through- but art is something long lasting, our thoughts can be forgotten over time but art can last for centuries. I want people to look at my works in the future and see a reflection of our shared history.