Soheila Sokhanvari Paints Real Womens’ Real Stories

Today, on the seventh anniversary of her Heart of Glass exhibit at the New Art Gallery Walsall, FF2 is proud to spotlight talented multidisciplinary artist Soheila Sokhanvari! A gifted painter and sculptor, Soheila’s art merges the personal with the political to depict all the celebration and longing in considering pre-revolutionary Iranian life. To do this, Soheila employs the visual style and themes of magical realism, which beautifully blends the realistic and fantastic to offer a glimpse into the true. The Heart of Glass exhibit showcases Soheila’s beautiful and unique miniatures. The paintings, which Soheila creates using the materials of egg tempera, an ancient paint recipe, and vellum, or delicate calfskin, depict Soheila’s own family. Taking subjects from old family photos, Soheila paints arresting gray characters who stand out from brightly patterned backgrounds. The spectator feels the deep intimacy shared in each work, and stares in awe at these magical creations.

Click on image to enlarge

Soheila Sokhanvari was born in Shiraz, Iran in 1964. At the age of 14, Soheila left Iran for the United Kingdom to pursue her studies. The distance suddenly thrust between Soheila and her family, Soheila and her homeland, takes center stage in her work. Soheila’s pieces merge direct references to Iranian politics and life as well as an ingenious incorporation of negative space—of absence, the same absence of a lost home. The viewer feels it in every brushstroke and line.

Click on image to enlarge

Soheila self-describes her work as interested in “traumas that linger in the collective consciousness.” In addition to her miniatures, Soheila works with sculpture and crude oil paintings, as well as expired passports. Soheila’s sculptures portray everything from completely abstract figures to women’s eyes—and even large, taxidermied animals! Her oil paintings, delicate and haunting, give the illusion of their subjects almost vanishing into the parchment itself. Always connected to Soheila’s inspiring political opinions, her drawings tell the “story of the individual in relation to the mass consumer society and energy-hungry world.” This is an especially important message for the history of Iran, one of many “oil rich countries” who time and again grab at profit at “human cost.” Expanding on themes of country, Soheila’s expired passport series explores ideas of identity and border in times past and the modern age.

Each of her works conjures emotions as differing and complex as the essences of the women they represent.

FF2 contributor Jessica Bond had the opportunity to write on Soheila’s 2022 exhibit, Rebel Rebel, in an article for our site. Based out of the Curve Gallery in London, Rebel Rebel showcases both paintings of Soheila’s own family members as well as many feminist heroes of Iran. In Jessica’s words, the exhibit “explores the femininity and freedom that Iranian women possess.” Jessica took time to spotlight Soheila’s ability to call attention to these inspiring women’s differing personalities through her use of color, texture, and pattern. Though similar in composition, each of her works conjures emotions as differing and complex as the essences of the women they represent.

Soheila’s art has also been featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as well as the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Last year, Soheila also unveiled an exhibit at the Heong Gallery in Cambridge titled We Could Be Heroes. The exhibit continues Soheila’s tradition of showcasing the personal and political through colorful, eye-catching work. Though Soheila works heavily with magical realism, the key word in that phrase is the second: realism. Soheila offers the viewer a glimpse into real worlds, populated with real people. They may be miles away in times long past, but their stories and struggles stay alive and relevant. They are buoyed up through time in the work of Soheila Sokhanvari. Thank you, Soheila, for using your own strong voice to spotlight these women.

© Reese Alexander (5/26/24) – Special for FF2 Media


Read Jessica’s article on Soheila here.

Browse Soheila’s website here.

Follow Soheila on Instagram here.

Visit Soheila’s Wikipedia page here.


Featured Photo/Top Middle Photo: She Walks in Beauty (Portrait of Shohreh Aghdashloo) 2022

Titled after the poem by Lord Byron this painting is based on a black and white photograph of one of  Iran’s most famous actors, Shohreh Aghdashloo, sitting on a peacock chair.

Still working today, Shohreh Aghdashloo (born Shohreh Vaziri-Tabar) is among the most internationally celebrated Iranian-born actors. Like so many performers of her generation, her family opposed her choice of career, hoping she would become a doctor instead. Marriage aged 19 opened doors, and she shot to fame in the 1970s with major film roles in Iran. In 1979, she escaped the revolution, leaving her wealth and her husband behind to start a new life in the UK where she completed a BA in International Relations.

Moving to the US, she struggled to rebuild an acting career in Hollywood as an Iranian émigré. Her breakthrough came in the early 2000s, after she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in House of Sand and Fog (2003). In her recent work she has chosen roles which challenge stereotypes about Middle Eastern women, and she has spoken out repeatedly about human rights abuses in Iran. Of her early career, she recalls, ‘you could see patriarchy in the Iranian cinema… you’d be lucky to find a strong woman in one out of twenty scripts.’

Image Credit: Charlie J Ercilla / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2K57FNJ

Middle Photo: Tobeh (portrait of Zahra Khoshkam) 2020

I was drawn to this photograph of Zahra or Zari Khoshkam that I found online showing a confident pose of the actor that I admired from childhood. Zhara born Zari in 1947 has little or no information about her life before the revolution. She played in 4 movies in 1971-1972 and the blockbuster TV serial Sultan-e-Sahebgharan” 1975.

At the onset of the 1979 Iranian revolution, Zahra was forced to sign a letter of penitence (Tobeh) repenting her sin of acting in Film Farsi movies-but unlike many of her contemporaries she was allowed to continue with her career as she was considered chaste. She was married to the famous Iranian Filmmaker Ali Hatami so like a phenix she decided to renew her career under a new identity after the revolution, by changing her name to Zahra Hatami . She continued to play in a popular TV series “Hezar Dastan” (1000 stories) 1979-1987 and 6 films from 1997-2019. She is the mother of one of Iran’s most popular actor Leila Hatami.

Zahra Khoshkam died on May 16th, 2024.

Image Credit: Charlie J Ercilla / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2K57GFC

Bottom Photo: Headshot of Soheila courtesy of Soheila Sokhanvari and Megan Alexander of the Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery. Used with permission from Soheila. All Rights Reserved.

All captions above were provided by Soheila Sokhanvari. Thank You, Soheila!

Tags: Best Supporting Actress Oscar, Heart of Glass, Iranian Women, Leila Hatami, Pre-Revolutionary Iran, Rebel Rebel, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Soheila Sokhanvari, We Could Be Heroes, Women painters, Zahra Khoshkam

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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