Interview With Leila Fatemi

Leila Fatemi is a Toronto-based photographer of Iranian, German, and Indian descent. Currently completing her B.F.A. in Photography at Ryerson University, Leila is influenced by her own life experience and understandings as a visual artist living between cultures. Her work results from personal reflections as well as the attempt to create a better understanding and appreciation for Islamic culture and its foundations. Through the perspective of a practicing Muslim artist, she strives to create thought-provoking work that allows viewers to look at alternative perspectives of Islamic traditions. 

FBB. Talk to us about your work and the message behind it.

Through the perspective of a practicing Muslim artist as well as an artist living between cultures, I strive to create thought-provoking work that will afford my viewers an alternative perspective on Islamic traditions and create an informed dialogue about religion, culture and ideologies.

FBB. What are you doing to grow as an Iranian artist today?

While I wouldn’t necessarily say my work is focused solely on Iranian culture, it is undoubtedly influenced by Iranian culture through aesthetic and cultural customs. Iran’s history plays a central role in my research and therefore I am constantly in pursuit of knowledge on the subject in order to accurately depict a culture that is largely associated with the themes found within my work. I have found that many of my ideas and understandings have been shaped by conversations with other Iranians whom either share my beliefs or oppose them; I am constantly developing my ideas through my own experiences and the experiences of others.

FBB. How would you classify your artistic style

I’d probably describe my artistic style as loaded. I channel many ideas into my work and they are usually manifested in the details I am meticulous about including. It’s important for me to find a balance between the aesthetic and the issues I am dealing in order to further engage my audience as they begin to unpack the layers behind each work. By provoking my viewers with questions I seek to challenge the way they view and understand the themes I deal with.

FBB. What are you working on at the moment, and what sorts of projects are you interested in pursuing

After a short-lived Artist Hiatus, I’m back and excited about a few ideas I have brewing. At the moment I am experimenting with pushing the boundaries of photography in my work through incorporating a number of different mediums and broadening my current practice. 

FBB. What inspires you?

I am very much inspired by the idea of internal and external realities and how ones internal ideologies manifest in their practices, and furthermore how those practices are received. There’s a certain duality between both forms of reality that inspires me to pursue them on an artistic level. I am also very inspired by artists potential to create work that speaks to current events and issues, bringing alternative perspectives to the table. But I’d have to say that the creative process itself is my biggest source of inspiration for it allows me to stay present, engaged and informed. 

FBB. One of your works has recently been acquired by the foundation to join the Behnam-Bakhtiar Permanent Collection. How do you feel about that?

I am thrilled to now be a part of the Behnam Bakhtiar Permanent Collection. I think the work they do is phenomenal. In a world where people associate Iran with War instead of Art, it’s so important to support talent that seeks to present alternative narratives and pay homage to the rich history of art that Iran offers. It is truly an honour to be a part of a collection that includes the works of many iconic Iranian artists.

FBB. What message do you have to other Iranian artists who would like to have their works in permanent collections and shown in museums?

I’d like to remind Iranian artists that the work they make is important. As an Iranian artist you have the ability to offer insight into a culture and society that many people are misinformed about. The sooner you believe in the potential of your own work, the sooner you will realize the necessity of your perspective in today’s art world. Create work that speaks to that necessity and you will be surprised where your work ends up and what a positive impact it can have on people. 

FBB. We loved your series ‘The Wandering Veil’. Talk to us about this series and what pushed you to create this body of works.

The Wandering Veil began as a reflection of my own personal experience as a veiled Muslim woman engaged in the spiritual and intimate act of worship. I wanted a way to represent the calm and peace found in my own experiences and create a universal way to relate to that sense of unbound freedom, one that is currently underrepresented in the media. Through setting the anonymous figure in primarily unrecognizable and arguably sublime landscapes, I seek to depict facets of existence beyond physical representation, rooted in spirituality and often sought through religion and nature. The atmosphere in the photographs exudes peace, tranquility, isolation and spirituality while the veil creates a private space and sense of anonymity, inviting the viewer to project themselves within each landscape. Through this series I ultimately aimed to create a broader discourse that moved beyond the politically charged associations of the veil as a symbol of oppression. 

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