We all draw and paint as children, without giving any thought to how our work develops, how it is received or perceived. However, with age, the loss of self-confidence, boredom and the lack of time force us to give up art and dismiss that courageous and adventurous part of ourselves responsible for childhood exploration and experimentation.
Amira Behbahani did not yield to this predicament. She has pushed through the years and with each, gained more bravery, passion and commitment towards her artistic output. One of the most interesting aspects of Amira as an artist, aside from her auto-didacticism, is her unyielding engagement in the production of her art and her bravery in its presentation and exhibition.
Since childhood, she was exposed to art and artists through her uncle Jawad Boushehri. He was the one who took Amira to see her first art exhibition at the Modern Art Museum when she was nine. Mr. Boushehri – himself an artist, gallerist and head of the Boushehri Group – gave Amira her first job in 1992 where she learned about all aspects of advertising, digital photography, graphic design and fine art reproduction prints.
In 2001, she began to draw and paint independently. Soon, the act consumed her and she would draw whenever she had the chance. Drawing even began to replace the words in her personal journal she had kept since childhood. She held her first exhibition in 2004 titled The Teacher & the Apprentice at the Dar Al-Funoon Gallery. The fact that she had been exposed to professionally trained artists meant that her art was not completely naïve.
Amira had attempted to follow academic artistic conventions which resulted in her own unconventional style. She has poured all that she has ever experienced creatively into her art which includes all mediums and materials, even sewing and collage. Most of her work deals with subject matter deeply rooted in her childhood spent between Kuwait and Iran. A great source of inspiration is the black and white photographs from family albums capturing elegantly dressed family members and beautiful architecture.
Two of her most prominent subjects are women and landscapes, rendered either in her signature intricate black and white ink or vivid oil paintings. They lack the traditional perspective and depth and instead are filled flat areas of paint folding onto themselves to create a patchy reality filled with zig-zags, spirals and crosshatchings.
Throughout the years, Amira has continued to explore artists and research materials and tries to make it to as many exhibitions as she can. She has often discovered that the work she has created over the years resembles that of such renowned artists as Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Matisse and Paul Klee – not in the quality of the technique, but in the strong resemblance of motifs.
This is understandable, as many of the artists whom she feels she shares this aesthetic with are the very ones who explored the concepts of folk, outsider or naïve art, or travelled extensively in Africa and the Middle East exploring the art of this region. What they gained visually from this region is what Amira has seen and been exposed to her whole life. But regardless of what this artistic practice or movement is, it is fascinating in its formal simplicity and depth of feeling.
It is an art that Amira has believed in and nurtured through her solitude employing purely impulsive style and content. Her work rises from the depths of her emotions and is not related to or influenced by the clichés of classical art or the current fashion. Her creations have flourished over the years in both medium and scale to reach canvases of over 3 m in width. However, despite the size or the materials she has experienced with, she has managed to stay far from the mainstream’s grasp.
She has held on to her own identity and integrity remaining immune to assimilation into an “expected” or “desired” form of artistic production so commonly found in the contemporary art scene of the region and in doing so, created her own signature style and aesthetic.