Continuing to mark the release of the Looking to the Future online archive we are talking to interdisciplinary artist Kiana Honarmand, who's work offers a commentary on socio-political issues. Here she will be giving us an insight into her practice discussing how she creates from a personal place, being able to craft a space to share her experience with the viewer.
Image description: a landscape poster depicting a close up portrait with their face obscured by a square headpiece made of layers of lace cut into flowing organic patterns. Bold white text in the centre reads Kiana Honarmand, underneath in a smaller font reads @kianahonarmand.
Can you briefly describe yourself and the artwork you make?
I am an interdisciplinary artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through my life in Iran and now my identity as a Middle Eastern woman living in the United States, my work offers a commentary on sociopolitical issues. I create images, videos, sculptures, and installations that illustrate my struggles related to my cultural identity and how it is perceived in my new home.
Is a large part of your practice concentrated on your exploration of your own identity?
My studio practice focuses on my experience and events that have affected me throughout my life. I am often drawn to create work about issues that I am going through, and many of these issues are related to my identity in one way or another.
These issues include censorship, surveillance, violation of women’s rights, and the perception of immigrants and the Middle East in the Western world. Sometimes the work is straightforward and talks directly about one of these issues. Other times, it is made of complex layers that encompass a variety of issues and feelings.
Kiana Honarmand, On Edge, installation, CNC machined MDF, steel, acrylic,
light, and shadow, 2017
Image description: a large scale installation of a cube made of steel and wood, precariously balancing on on edge. The surface of the cube is machined into fluid and organic interlacing patterns. A light underneath the cube creates dramatic shadows on the gallery wall.
You use a variety of different forms and materials in your pieces. How do these choices impact upon your work?
As a conceptually driven artist, all my choices of media or materials are inspired by the concept behind each project. I often ask myself: what is the right medium to tell this story, what are the materials that are conceptually and historically appropriate for the subject. This approach has taken me on a path to try out different media and materials throughout the past decade in my studio practice. I started my art practice as a photographer and moved to mixed media, then sculpture, installation and recently I have been working with time-based media such as performance and video. It is exhilarating to work with new materials and media and learn the stories and nuances of each one. But it can also be challenging at the same time because I often have to learn new tools and skills.
You have described your artwork as being very personal. How do you achieve this within your work?
My work is inspired by past and current experiences and events that have deeply affected my life. Art is the safe space that allows me to express myself and address these issues. Some of these expressions end up becoming final pieces or a series of work, but there are many that exist as ideas and sketches in the back of my mind, where they grow and inspire other projects, sometimes years into the future. I believe as humans, we have many shared feelings and experiences. One of the most beautiful things about art is its capacity to translate across cultures and languages. Even though as artists we talk about issues that are personal to us, our expressions can often connect to other people on a personal level.
Kiana Honarmand, Across the Space Separating, vinyl installation on glass, 2020
Image description: an interior shot of a room looking out at 3 windows perfectly aligned at the centre. The windows are covered in red and black vinyl forming lace like circular patterns.
Much of your work contains politically charged writings. What drove you to incorporating this in your practice?
I started using Persian text in my work, as a symbol of my past and heritage. Persian calligraphy has been an important part of Persian visual arts for a long time. I have also been fascinated by the long history of hiding political commentary and criticism in visual arts and literature, and my way of using text is paying homage to that. In my research, I find politically charged writings such as feminist poetry, news articles, and propaganda. Through my process of repetition and manipulation of the calligraphy, I transform them into patterns. While Persian text is perceived with fear in the current political climate of that Western world, I am interested in taking over large spaces with these patterns, to confront the viewers.
Are there specific artists or areas of research that inspire your work?
There are many artists that have inspired me throughout my life. I find inspiration everywhere- from visiting a gallery or a museum, reading books, watching movies, social media, and much more. I am deeply inspired by artists like Ai Weiwei, whose work is often immersive, and talks about different socio-political issues of our time.
I am interested in the history of the arts, and how artists often tell a much better truth than historians.
Kiana Honarmand, Wearing My Burden, wearable Sculpture: Layers of laser-cut felt, 2020
Image description: a portrait of pale figure with their face obscured by a square headpiece made of layers of lace cut into flowing organic patterns.
We recently showcased your short film ‘As I Lay Longing’ as part of the Looking to the Future film screening. Can you tell us about what this film means to you and the concepts you tackle within it?
This video is inspired by my experience of immigration, separation, longing, and uncertainty. The limitations that came with the pandemic have compounded these experiences.
I have always been inspired by daily chores and routines which through time and mindless repetition, morph into meditative rituals. These routines or rituals take me back to my past, my childhood home, and connect me to many generations of women that came before me.
In my studio practice, I often find myself working on labour-intensive processes, which in a way resemble repetitive and never-ending chores and housework which for centuries have been associated with feminine work and duties. But for me, these processes often become a space for meditation and mindfulness.
Growing up, one of our daily chores was cleaning rice. Rice is an important part of Persian food and culture. To clean it, We put rice in a large tray in a single layer, and use our hands and fingers to go through the grains to remove debris. It was a very tactile process. In this video, I am counting the days since I left my home country and many loved ones behind using grains of rice. During the lockdown, while being stuck at home, this process reminded me of how people in captivity would make marks on a surface to keep track of the passage of time.
Kiana Honarmand, As I Lay Longing, video, 6:41 min, 2021
Video description: a black and white video displaying the artists hands on top of a black background. Over the course of the film she carefully places grains of rice in neat rows starting at the top of the frame until the whole background is covered. As she places them she says each number allowed, continuously counting until finally she gathered all the rice and pours them into a jar.
You have stated that you explore the difference in perceptions of cultural identity moving to different countries. How have these experiences helped shape the work you make?
Moving from a country to a new one is an experience that deeply changes one’s life, especially if those countries are in conflict. My experience as an artist and a human has been shaped by the challenges that come with immigration. As a Middle Eastern woman in the United States, I deal with the stigma both related to Middle Easterns and immigrants. In some of my work, I talk about existing in this in-between space, where you no longer belong to the home that you left behind, and will never quite belong in this new land, because you are always seen as an outsider.
What projects have you recently been working on and what will you doing moving forwards?
I am currently working on a new video which is the continuation of a series that I started last year. This series addresses the topic of immigration and the stigma around it through the lens of different elements. Before the pandemic started, I was working on a series of wearable sculptures titled Wearing My Burden. After a mandatory pause due to the restrictions of the pandemic, I am excited to get back to that series. I have been thinking about how I can tell different aspects of a story by using different media within one project. I am interested in experimenting with time-based work such as performance and video utilizing these wearable sculptures.
Moving forward, I will focus on creating different pieces that could both exist on their own, and also be put together to create immersive multimedia installations to share my experience with others.
Kiana Honarmand's work alongside others can still be viewed in the Looking to the Future digital archive here.