Kim Soep: You were born and brought up in Iran, and then moved to the UK. When did you relocate and has your experience of moving to the UK affected your practice?
Elham Hemmat: "My works have always been affected by my environment. In my hometown in Iran, it is common to see traditional Iranian architecture in which ceramic tiles with colourful and detailed designs are used to cover the exterior of the buildings – at this time, my works were colourful and detailed.
"I moved to the UK in February 2019 and set up my studio at Creative Exchange Artists Studios in Belfast, where it constantly rains. The rain roughens the surfaces of the buildings, removing materials/paint and disappearing carved details. Rain had washed the paint, corroding it and creating new colours. This inspired me to create a collection of portraits, using a technique that mimicked the natural process. I used pigments and glue and added them layer by layer on the canvas and then poured water to create the same texture as the walls, then I developed this technique and created my new collection entitled Silence and Movement."
Kim Soep: What drew you to ceramics?
Elham Hemmat: "I always try to find a different medium to express my ideas. For creating the Docile Bodies collection, I needed glossy colours, so ceramics was a good choice. My hometown, famous for pottery, also affected my decision. I learned pottery when I was a small child by trial and error and with help from relatives."
Kim Soep: Do you work in other materials?
Elham Hemmat: "Based on the concept, I choose an appropriate technique, and I never limit myself to a specific medium. I remember when I was a student for one of my projects I needed some insects as part of my poster and I used jam instead of colour and left it in the garden. In less than an hour, my work was covered with ants and I started taking photos of the work.
"Assemblage, ceramics, mixed media and acrylic are the techniques that I have used so far, and I would love to try other techniques in future."
Kim Soep: Talk us through your process?
Elham Hemmat: "Typically, I start working on a project after reading a book that peaks my interest and inspires me. I think about the medium and materials that would represent my ideas appropriately and start experimenting until I find the right technique. For example, the “Docile Bodies” collection inspired by “Discipline and Punish” by Michel Foucault book and the name of this collection is retrieved from a chapter of this book. The process of creating this collection took more than 2 years as I created more than 130 pieces. In this project, I have made human bodies in different forms and shapes, each addorned with a pattern. Patterns are symbolic and primitive and sometimes accompanied by texts, which are a depiction of wordless thoughts and beliefs."
Kim Soep: You also work as a graphic designer and have an MA in Research in Art- do both/either of these inform your artmaking? Do you have other influences?
Elham Hemmat: "I took up cycling 4 years ago and so getting out in nature has influenced me greatly. Being in direct contact with nature in all seasons taught me to be flexible and how to adapt to different situations, like the trees that change in different seasons.
"My MA in Research was related to art philosophy, so I am used to thinking deeply about concepts and ideas. Working as a graphic designer, however, has taught me how to understand and visualise ideas and opinions, which I believe is inherent in my overall approach to art."
Kim Soep: You have previously said that art is a means to make the world a better place. In the context of what’s happening in Iran right now, do you think art is playing a part in helping women and their protest movement?
Elham Hemmat: "Many Iranian artists and musicians have created artworks and songs to support the movement and express the needs of the young generation through different media. In the early days of the protests, Shervin Hajipor released a song ('Baraye') that gained traction and helped Iranians to be heard worldwide. Recently, Guggenheim Museum, in New York installed an artwork, red banners with the face of Mahsa Amini (the girl whose death triggered the protests), to support the uprising, informing Americans about the situation in Iran.
"Los Angeles County Museum of Art hosted a performance to commemorate the 40th days of mourning for the Zahedan “Bloody Friday” massacre (Iranian security forces opened fire at Baluchis, an ethnic minority, and killed almost 100 people)."
Kim Soep: What are you working on now?
Elham Hemmat: "I am currently reading books on philosophy and psychology like 'Man and His Symbols' by C.G Jung, 'The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious' by C.G. Jung, 'Being and Nothingness' by Jean Paul Sartre, 'The Woman Destroyed and All Men Are Mortal' by Simone de Beauvoir and so on to be able to expand my ‘Docile Bodies’ collection. My solo show at The Engine Room Gallery in Belfast is ongoing, which hopefully will provide feedback for my future work."
If you buy works by Elham Hemmat, we will donate 10% of the proceeds to an NGO called Mehrafarin, a Tehran-based charity working with people suffering under the Iranian political regime. Learn more here- mehrafarinorg.ir