First published: Spring 2020
The work of Iranian artist Samaneh Atef reflects the plight of persecuted women in a hostile political situation
The image of a strong female figure is at the core of Samaneh Atef’s work. An intense, emotionally charged being, this eternal image of femaleness seems to be coextensive with the world. Atef’s woman adopts different guises: fighter to victim, child to mother, human to daemon. At times, she is the sole, iconic human presence, at others she appears in manifold. Never can she be viewed passively; looking at an Atef creation is always an encounter.
Untitled, n.d., pen on paper, 8 x 12 in. / 20 x 30 cm
Born in 1989, in the city of Bandar Abbas on the southern coast of Iran, Atef now lives in Astaneh-ye Ashrafiyeh in the north near the Caspian Sea. As a girl, she moved around a lot with her family and naval officer father; however, she and her three siblings had a stable upbringing that was safe and loving, and constantly relocating meant that the young Atef was exposed to a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities.
She knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue art, and throughout her childhood she drew and made things. However, she always hid or destroyed her creations as she felt that artistic activity would mark her out as different, something she sensed should be avoided. Nevertheless, when the time came, Atef voiced a desire to train as a graphic artist. Her father forbade it, and instead Atef began studying for a computing degree at the Azad University of Lahijan. As a sideline, to make money, she began tutoring others in computing. Gradually, she became financially independent so that, when she was ready, she could pursue her artistic ambitions without relying on her family or needing their permission.
While she was at university, a close friend committed suicide. Atef was greatly traumatised by the loss; the feelings of loneliness and isolation, to which she was prone, were magnified. For a time, she retreated into a dreamlike existence, using sleeping pills as a way to escape and find solace. However, she also began to lose herself in art. “My love was for my paintings,” she says, “In them, I could describe my injured spirit, define the loss in my life, and never see anyone.”
Aside from its cathartic, healing effects, the pull of artmaking was too strong for Atef, and when she was in her mid-twenties she gave in to it. It was also around this time that she befriended a man, who she later discovered was a graphic designer, the very thing that she had wanted to be. When she plucked up the courage to show him her drawings, he told her that formal art training would only stymie the freeness and spontaneity that flowed from her. He saw a unique quality in her work that could only come from unmediated expression.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #105