Interview with Sara Rahbar
Interview with contemporary mixed media artist Sara Rahbar
Born in Tehran, Iran, in 1976, Sara lives and works in New York. She pursued an interdisciplinary study program in New York from 1996-2000 and also studied at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and design from 2004- 2005.
Her work ranges from photography to sculpture to installation and always stems from her personal experiences and is largely autobiographical. The first body of work that created international recognition for the artist was the flag series (2005-2011), in which traditional fabrics and objects are reworked as collages that form various incarnations of the American and Iranian flag, exploring ideas of national belonging, as well as the conflicting role of flags as symbols of ideological and nationalistic violence.
Rahbar’s work has been widely shown internationally, including Cairo, Mumbai, Dubai, Madrid, Vienna, Moscow, New York, London and Paris and is held in multiple collections worldwide, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Queensland Art Gallery in Queensland, Australia, The Burger Collection in Hong Kong, the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon, India and The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.
Why did you decide to use the American flag as the canvas for your first series of work?
It was such a natural and instinctual thing for me to do. I never questioned it. I saw it as a canvas, a background, as a foundation to build something on. This idea of America, the American dream, the american flag and all that it represents or should i say represented, has been ingrained in my mind for so many years, it has been such a big part of my life, that It was only natural for me to turn to the American flag to begin the most important conversation of my life.
Recurring themes of identity and political symbolism are synonymous with your work. What informs your choice of medium and materials?
Life. In the end it all stems from life; my personal life and all that I witness taking place before me. I work very instinctually and I work with objects and materials that move me, trigger me and shake me. I don’t analyze anything I just go with my gut. I collect materials and objects like a maniac, then I retrieve to my studio and begin the piecing together process; which is also not thought out and comes from a place that I don’t quite understand, but trust.
Your work is intensely personal. To what extent has your artistic journey helped in reconciling your past?
My work is my private therapy, my own private catharsis. It keeps me sane. It saves me from myself time and time again. It helps me to heal myself, to grow and to move forward. And i think that In the process of creating something new, I let go of and release the past. I let go of something old in order to give birth to something new. It’s a life cycle, it just keeps cycling and recycling over and over again. I have this overwhelming need to make things, to create something new and to piece things together. There is this deep-rooted drive within me to collect used, old, beat up objects that have lived, that have a past, and pieces them together in a way that makes sense to me, that makes me feel like everything is right with the world, that calms me and completes and resolves something in me.
‘Confessions Of A Sinner’ marks a departure from the nature of your previous politically-charged work. Was that a conscious decision and does it indicate you are now at peace with your past?
I think that as time passes the work is definitely becoming more and more personal and intimate, probably because I’m allowing myself to become more vulnerable. I’m getting closer and closer to something. I’m reaching the roots and as I can be more honest with myself, I can also be more honest and raw in my work, it’s a direct link, the work is a part of me, it’s not separate from me. The work shifts and metamorphosis with me. I was never trying to be consciously aggressively political, I was just pouring out what was within me, I was emptying myself. I think that all of these years of being exposed to politics and social issues in the US and in Iran, these sort of conversations have just become part of the fiber of my work and of me. I can’t avoid it, it’s all around me and it has effected my life directly and dramatically, and what is the work in the end, but a reflection of life.
What is a typical day in the studio of Sara Rahbar?
Their is no typical day… I am random and all over place. Sometimes I need to just drive my station wagon and fill my trunk up with as many objects as I can possibly find, and sometimes I just need to hibernate in my studio and look at images all day long in order to feed my brain, and sometimes I just need to get as far away from my studio as possible in order to restart my brain. I’m learning that distance, time and separation are just as important as the actual making of the work. Ideas come when I’m not running after them.
*The author would like to thank Sara Rahbar for her kind permission to conduct this interview. To view more of Sara’s work, please visit http://www.sararahbar.com