I was first introduced to Mojdeh Rezaeipour during the fall of 2017 at the Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, VA where she had a solo show of her work at the time. While her exhibition was still up, she was invited to participate in a series of talks The Studio Visit (TSV) co-organized with the Arlington Arts Center titled Nasty Women | Art Talks, a program that was part of an event at the National Museum of Women in the Arts organized by photographer Kim Schoenstadt and esteemed D.C. artist Linn Meyers. The historic event brought together hundreds of female artists for one large group photograph. As part of the Nasty Women | Art Talks, Mojdeh talked about her time as a young girl in Tehran, Iran who came to the United States and discovered her sense of freedom as a woman. This talk about her life and art led me to get to really know Mojdeh as a woman, immigrant and architect-turned-visual artist.
On her website it states:
“Rooted in the duality of her childhood in Iran and the disembodied nature of the immigrant experience, much of Mojdeh’s work is a semi-autobiographical exploration of systems of oppression, hyphenated identity and wholeness.”
Soon after the talk at the Arlington Arts Center and a visit to her then geodesic dome studio and home in southern Maryland, TSV nominated her to be the first fellow to go to Berlin on a fully funded scholarship for one month at the Takt International Artist Residency. The scholarship is funded in large part by D.C. collector Joette James who is is a devoted art collector and supporter of emerging artists in the Washington D.C. area.
Mojdeh not surprisingly made many discoveries during her time in Berlin this past summer 2018.
This interview addresses some of those shifts and changes as she embarked on two solo shows upon her return to the U.S. One titled “On Matters Of Resilience” at the Open Gallery at Montgomery College in Maryland, and the other titled “Memories, Dreams, Reclamations” at Gallery 30 South in Los Angeles, CA.
Isabel Manalo: What were your first impressions when you arrived in Berlin and specifically to Takt? How did you react to your new surroundings?
Mojdeh Rezaeipour: Geographically speaking, Berlin sits almost at the center point between my two half homes: Iran and the U.S. That, alongside the parallels between all that was already unraveling socially and politically in the U.S. before I left and everything that Berlin as a city has been through historically, had me bracing myself for definite darkness in the learning and the work. At least initially, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Berlin in the summer just feels like a big party.
The sun comes out a little before 5 a.m. in the mornings and somehow stays in the sky until almost 11 p.m. I’d never experienced anything like it! I would often wake up with the sunrise, starting every morning on my window sill, writing and drinking tea for hours. My studio was on the ground floor which made my morning nook feel like a sort of porch with the window open. Other Takt residents or neighbors would walk by and say hello or stop for a quick chat. I participated in some group programming but for the most part, I let go of all expectations and just let myself be. I went to the sauna many times. I hung out in Mauerpark every day. I took so many naps!
IM: Can you talk about how you arrived at the body of work you decided to create? What were the influences and inspirations behind the creative process for you?
MR: On one of my first days there, I went for a long walk in the neighborhood. As I was crossing a bridge on the way back to my studio, a class of kindergarteners walked behind me. Their teacher told them to run and so in one instant, twenty or so five-year-olds ran past me and through me, laughing all together. It really moved me and I think they cast a spell on me with their joy that really set the tone for the remainder of my time in Berlin.
I started to notice childhood – and the joys of my childhood – everywhere. The sounds coming from the elementary school across the street, stacks of tricycles on every sidewalk, kids playing freely in public spaces, the city’s echo as one child would yell out another’s name. On my first visit to the art supply store, I bought little wood blocks and built Tetris pieces with them. At the Mauerpark flea market that Sunday, I found some of the actual kinder egg toys I had when I was a child. I brought home pieces of the sidewalk with me and picked thorns from fallen branches at a nearby rose garden. None of it made sense to me yet, but I trusted the ongoing conversation with Berlin and myself: Embracing brokenness. Reclaiming play. Resilience.
IM: How do you think being in Berlin and making art there with other artists changed you and your work – or didn’t?
MR: Materially, toys and other found objects started to make their way into my work, as well as pieces of the city itself… asphalt, cement, cobblestones. And witnessing installation based work by other artists in Berlin’s many ‘Do It Yourself’ spaces gave me permission to take my work off of the wall and to think of it occupying space more freely.
In a bigger way, Berlin just really held me. And for the first time in a long time, I was far enough from everything that I constantly had to actually hold myself and to let myself be held. Before then, I didn’t really know how to rest. Berlin taught me.
IM: This past fall, you had a solo show at Montgomery College’s Open gallery that is now showing in Los Angeles. Please talk about this work and how it has changed from the Berlin work – and even before that, the more figurative paintings you were making on gesso board.
MR: My plan for this exhibition was to explore resilience rooted in the duality of my childhood, including some of the older mixed media works you are referring to here and the more colorful work that came to be as a counterpart to it in Berlin. I had vaguely imagined installing it in two parts. When I arrived at the gallery with the work, I noticed that it was a much larger space than I originally had in mind which lead me to a minor freakout. It was out of an urgent need to fill more space than I first considered what else I could include.
On day two, I packed practically everything I’ve ever made into my car and brought them to the gallery. My partner and I were in between homes and most of our belongings were in and out of boxes in the same basement I called my studio at the time. So I decided also to pack larger objects from our life that spoke to the story or idea in each grouping. Souvenirs from Iran, pillows from our living room, a turtle shell we found in the forest behind our home. Somewhere along the way, it all started making sense. Then, I produced a series of newer elements to complete each installation while on site. I realized I was wrong to think of my work as existing in two separate bodies and that I have slowly been piecing together a language in which to tell a series of nonlinear stories.
Of course, I could have never predicted that this would be such a tumultuous process, and I’m incredibly grateful to the exhibition staff at Montgomery College for bearing with me through the week of install… I was such a mess.
IM: How was the process similar or different for your recent show in LA?
MR: Transporting the work was a huge pain, but ultimately it was a lot easier this time because I’d done it all once before. I brought the key components of the exhibition with me and trusted that I would find some of the missing pieces on location. My only worry was about how to install the sculptural work since I was only permitted to use the wire hanging system. But I got away with suspending most of it from the ceiling, and I loved how it all came together in the end. I even got to experiment with some kinetic sculptural elements, which is something I’m looking forward to incorporating more of in my work.
IM: We (TSV) are so excited that you are one of the artists juried into the new.Stable studios in the Eckington neighborhood of Washington D.C. Why did you apply to be a part of this group and now that you will be there, what are some things you are looking forward to?
MR: I am so excited too! Up until now, with the exception of Berlin, I’ve been creating mostly in a vacuum. For two and a half years, I lived and worked in a little geodesic dome on 24 acres of deep forest in southern Maryland about an hour away from everything. It’s where most of my work was born. This was nourishing for me spiritually and creatively and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but these days I’m craving more conversation, collaboration, and community. I’m looking forward to moving my practice into the city for a change and working and learning alongside this incredible cohort of DC artists, a few of whom I already know, love and consider a part of my local art family.
You can learn more about Mojdeh by visiting her website: www.mojdeh.art