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Hoping Against Hope: Interview with Nafiseh and Bahareh, Iranian Multidisciplinary Artists

Nafiseh and Bahareh are two female multidisciplinary artists. This story began with the discovery that, as artists in Iran, they were unable to sell works internationally due to trade sanctions. They collaborated on a jewelry collection called Hoping Against Hope which was recently exhibited in Istanbul (March 2022) where they currently reside. This article is based on an interview with the pair and explores their story and the ideas behind their art.

As women born in the Middle East, we faced many struggles in our personal lives. We both grew up in traditional Iranian families. It wasn’t easy for us, and we did almost the whole route as the first person in the family: studying in another city away from the family, independent work trips, and now traveling to another country.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

Beauty in Brokenness

Nafiseh Khoshandam and Bahareh Ghaderi are from Mashhad in Iran. They have known each other since high school and began their collaboration in 2010. They have worked on many different projects including public art installations, murals, and photography. They designed their very first jewelry collection, Hoping Against Hope, to call attention to societal issues and express compassion for their culture and heritage. Their inaugural show was in Istanbul.

Everywhere we look, something awful is happening and, of course, it affects our beautiful culture, our people, and our society. So we decided to represent this declining culture in the form of jewelry. When you wear a piece of jewelry, it becomes a part of you.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

When they were searching for a gallery to host their Hoping Against Hope collection, the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan began. During the exhibition, the Russian invasion of Ukraine started. This context found strong resonance with the collection as it foregrounds the intertwined fates of humanity and the gravitas of the situation. Hoping Against Hope is all about the decline in culture due to unrest, geopolitics, and restrictions on liberties. You can read about another Iranian artist, Siah Armajani, and his response to the restrictions here.

Our culture might be declining but it is still beautiful. Even in its brokenness, it still holds a stunning beauty.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

Human Connections

The main source of inspiration for Nafiseh and Bahareh are people and their stories. For example, Reyhaneh Jabbari, who was executed in 2014 for killing her alleged rapist. In the two weeks after this, the artists made a sculpture in her memory, Forgive that Late Innocent Child. Iranian law is such that the victim’s family can prevent the death sentence, hence the title. In the piece, they depict a little girl’s feet on the execution stool.

We believe stories behind artwork may spark a connection that can lead to a big reaction. Artists share passions, bravery, sadness, hardships, and joys, which are all universal and allow them to find common ground with other people.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

Intricate Bronze

The artists use small segments of motifs from ancient goldsmith workshops and deliberately create a “damaged” effect in bronze. This first piece is embossed with a flower, a symbol of femininity.

Nafiseh and Bahareh, Bronze pendant with a flower.

Nafiseh and Bahareh, N&B.H.35 Model, bronze brass, 2021. Courtesy of the artists.

In the piece below, the artists try to represent the infinity of history. Beneath that, the second artwork embodies silence with a purpose.

Nafiseh and Bahareh, Bronze pendant.

Nafiseh and Bahareh, N&B.H.12 Model, bronze brass, 2o21. Courtesy of the artists.

We use destruction as a negative space and element in the composition.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

Nafiseh and Bahareh, Bronze pendant.

Nafiseh and Bahareh, N&B.H.28 Model, bronze brass, 2021. Courtesy of the artists.

Sometimes your eyes see the destruction and erosion of beauty, and perhaps your mind does not pay much attention. The line that is left represents a silence that helps the viewer to focus and think more deeply. Sometimes unpredictable and bad events happen like dominoes. We are not able to pause to understand the situation.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

We believe that the future is going to be ours. We think that people in the Middle East have been ignored for a very long time. But times have changed. We are more aware of our rights. We want to make changes, we are the ones that have to make it happen. With all our difficulties and problems, we have to take charge to change our future. So that is why we started our journey – to spread the message that beauty triumphs through life’s brokenness and rises to give hope.

Nafiseh and Bahareh

Interview with the author.

Portrait of Nafiseh and Bahareh.

Portrait of Nafiseh and Bahareh. Courtesy of the artists.

If you want to learn more about Nafiseh and Bahareh, check out their website, and here you can explore more pieces from their Hoping Against Hope collection.

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