Studio Secrets with Shirin Abedinirad

February 29, 2024

The Iranian visual artist explores notions of identity, unity with nature, and the boundless essence of being through various mediums.

Born in Tabriz, Iran, in 1986, Abedinirad embarked on her artistic journey in 2002, initially in painting, later transitioning through graphic design and fashion design at Shariaty Technical College in Tehran. Passionate about the intersection of conceptual art and fashion, she began exploring performance art, delving into themes of gender, sexuality, and human compassion, captivating audiences with thought-provoking shows. Her work also extends to video, where she immerses herself as a performer, costume designer, and creator of sets and props. 

In 2013, Abedinirad's profound connection with nature led her to create land art, installation projects, and public art, interweaving the natural world with elements of gender, politics, and identity. Recent 2023 projects include the Oku-Noto Triennial in thecity of Suzu (Japan) and The Commagene Art and River Biennial in Adiyaman (Turkey). Currently based in Michigan, United States, Abedinirad continues her work in performance, installation, and video projects while pursuing a career in acting. She was recently recognised for her performance in the award-winning Iranian film Critical Zone, which was honoured with the Golden Leopard top prize at the Locarno Film Festival in 2023. We sat down with the artist to learn more.


When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

My classic answer would be - from childhood. My parents encouraged me to become an artist. I started doing paintings with coloured pencils, and my parents took me to different competitions around Tehran and were always encouraging me in different ways, even sending my paintings to Japan or international events.

I studied graphic design but switched to Fashion Design. However, in both I didn't find that much freedom. By participating in some workshops, I started making performance art, then video art, then installation, then land art.

What does a typical day in the Studio look like for you?

In my early years, I was always wondering why I could not work like other painters or sculptors, every day in my studio, using my hands to create artworks, and I was blaming myself for it. But then I realised that it was just my own way, because I have a different kind of practice. Everywhere for me can be my studio. It can be a room in my house. It can be a library, a studio, but also nature. I can be sitting on the grass watching trees, or getting different kinds of inspiration.

A studio for me is a state of mind, as opposed to a physical space. If somebody was interviewing me or wished to visit my studio, I don't have much to show them, because I don't feel attached to physical things.

Do you have any rituals connected with your practice?

I think the most important thing for me is to meditate and to stop, and remove myself from everyday life. Through reading poems and doing research, also through meditation, I feel that I am reaching my soul. So for me, it's the inner practice more important than the external one, that is what enables me to enter the creative space.

Rather than creating things with my hands, I prefer creating things by thinking, by imagining, and living in my own world. So I have much pleasure travelling in that state of mind and then sketching in my sketchbooks, or leading other people to create my artworks. This does not happen every day for sure - sometimes there can be periods of no ideas coming, for six months for example. You're just working on yourself, because there is a transition happening.

What can't you live without in the Studio?

I can't say I don't have any attachment to physical things. But for me, if someone told me I had to move from my place right now, I would not feel like I needed to take something with me in my luggage.

Though I certainly enjoy buying things - particularly for other people - I have never had attachments to objects. Incense and lovely smells are very important. It can be different, but creating something out of nature can really help me create a "natural environment”. This is a kind of ritual for me. I feel like I'm transforming my surroundings with positive elements.

How do you think technology has most shaped your practice?

A lot. First of all, documenting my artworks without technology would be impossible. I could not share it, and I would not have had the opportunity to showcase my artworks beyond Iran. Now, I have started to dig more into nfts and create a virtual reality experience of my land art. Sometimes I showcase my land art in Festivals and with a particular audience. But other times, that audience is just me and nature, so I need to document in order to share with my audience. Sometimes other people take photos of my land art which is appealing to my eye, as they reveal parts of the artwork that I did not see myself. But also now, creating my artwork with virtual reality, it is a bit like creating a land in a metaverse.

How do you think blockchain technology can impact your practice?

I think the first benefit blockchain can provide for my art is through the authenticity it provides. As I am not always creating with my hands or by myself. I can have a certificate of authenticity, but not through signing the artwork as such. I don't like owning physical things. It’s great to have a digitally secure authenticity of the artwork, and also so that you can trace its journey, where it has been, where it is going.

Other than that, I think blockchain will be an important way to engage younger collectors. I think that blockchain can help us easily reach new communities through new platforms. I'm open to it and I'm very excited. It doesn't have any limitations, and I love this because I feel like it's more fair. Blockchain is for every artist, and everybody from everywhere.

I think it's important to think how you want people to see your artwork after your death. That’s why I think technology is so powerful a tool for helping artists, particularly myself with land art. A material can lose its outside structure because of nature, or an earthquake can happen, and it can ruin everything. But when you have it preserved with a digital component, or in virtual reality, then it's real estate in a way, and your audience can forever reach it. It doesn't have a physical limitation. I think it can be compared to our physical bodies when we die. I don't know if we will stay after death. But I think blockchain technology can preserve the soul of an artwork, in a digital era.

Which artists have most inspired you?

The artists I am in love with are Salvador Dali and René Magritte. Both of them really impacted me a lot, as did the Iranian Film Director and screenwriter, Abbas Kiarostami, who has sadly passed away but I had the pleasure of knowing personally and working alongside when I was younger. He taught me to really observe, to slow down, and to see the beauty in nature, in its movements, and to draw inspiration from that. I feel like in my life since meeting him, I have been more patient.

Tell us about your Reflective Journey series?

With Reflective Journey, I wanted to emphasise how our perspective, our view, and how we are watching life is also affecting our lives. I wanted to explore how we categorise moments in our life as good or bad moments. What is good versus bad? I wanted to create three doors in one perspective; it seems that they are closed. They are not open. But as you gradually move you will see a light coming from a mirror, giving a light to you. At some point you will find a horizon open to you. So that closed door, which you had in your mind, will in fact open new doors for you. So, as I said, there are no good and bad moments in life. Sometimes stuff is happening to you, and only later on you realise that was actually good, and also the opposite is true. This is an exciting part of our life.

What would you be if you weren’t an artist?

I think it is different at different times of your life. When I was 17, I would have loved to have been an electrical engineer. But if you asked during the pandemic, when all of my projects got postponed and residencies and events were canceled, I would have said a different answer. I spent time with my family and helped my mother selling her antiques, she loves gathering things, loves buying antiques and her place was full of them. So, I helped her sell some. I enjoyed the interactions with people, knowing their stories and how they love an object and relate to it. I was surprised how exciting everything was in this new life. I even said to my family, that if from now on I would not be an artist anymore, I would still enjoy my life as before. The art of living is to enjoy the current moment, now.

Do you have a favourite museum?

I have visited a lot of museums and galleries around the world. But my favourite by far would be The Dalí Theatre and Museum in his home town of Figueres. Other curators or owners of museums are not related to an artist’s original viewpoint, when deciding how to place artworks, and I think it is very important for artists to create their own museums. Dalí led you in a very particular way, how to explore the installations in his museums, as he wanted you to see them. All of this museum is very unique.

Discover Shirin’s work at the Sanji Gallery booth during Art Dubai from 1-3 March 2024, curated by Juli Cho Bailer and Micaela Giovannotti. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest art and technology news and more stories from Arcual's community of innovators.

Pictured: Shirin Abedinirad, Reflective Journey, Land Art, Commagene Land and River Art Biennial, Turkey, 2023. Photographer: Hamed Pourtaghi. Courtesy of the Artist and Sanji Gallery.