Zahra Nazari is a New York City-based painter, sculptor, and installation artist who focuses on architectural themes in multicultural contexts.
Born to a family of architecture enthusiasts in Hamedan, Iran, Nazari has built her career as a visual artist on the foundation of memories from her youth. One of her most iconic works, “Unification,” is a 12-gauge stainless steel sculpture that was exhibited at the High Line Nine Gallery and in the Sculpture Space Garden. The work reimagines modern Persian architecture within a Western, futurist context. The hard work of sculpting steel – a key ingredient in Europe’s industrialization – mirrors the conceptual labor of uniting disparate cultures into a single element, and reminds us of the urgent need for diverse perspectives and dialogue.
Nazari has discussed these themes and others in artist talks and on panels at a variety of institutions, including NYU, Columbia University, Cooper Union, and Pratt Institute in New York City. Her work has been reviewed and published in Artefuse, Hamptons Art Hub, Hyperallergic, Whitehot Magazine, ZH Magazine, and more.
Nazari’s work is found in private and public collections around the world, and she exhibits widely. Among other venues, Nazari’s work has been featured in shows at The Bronx Museum of the Art (New York); Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art (New Paltz, NY); High Line Nine Gallery (New York); MANA Contemporary (Jersey City, NJ); Spartanburg Art Museum (Spartanburg, South Carolina); Masur Museum of Art (Los Angeles); New York Academy of Art (New York); Denise Bibro Fine Art (New York); Illinois Institute of Art (Chicago); China Millennium Monument (Beijing, China); Lite-Haus Galerie (Berlin, Germany); Saba Institution (Tehran, Iran); and Baran Gallery (Tehran, Iran).
Nazari has also received a number of prestigious grants and fellowships, including a Creative Engagement Grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (New York); FST Studio Projects Fund (new York); the AIM Fellowship from the Bronx Museum (New York); a Visiting Artist Fellowship from MASS MoCA (North Adams, Massachusetts) and Cooper Union (New York). She has been an artist in residence at Sculpture Space (Utica, NY), and the Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), among several others.
Nazari received her BFA from the School of Art & Architecture in Tabriz, Iran, and her MFA from the State University of New York in New Paltz in 2014.
"The foundation of my work is based on architectural references from my memory of my homeland of Iran and my life as an immigrant in New York City. The experiences I had visiting archaeological digs throughout Iran continue to inspire and inform my work which is deeply influenced by ancient Persian art and architecture, and the landscapes in which they have historically blossomed. Since my migration to the United States, my work has evolved into a formal blending of Persian and Western architectural styles, specifically European futurism. As my approach has developed, the color palette of my paintings has progressively grown from dark and intimist tones to more colorful expressions enlivened by energetic brush strokes. These changes reflect, in part, my perspective as an immigrant New Yorker, and echo the speed, technology, and industrial landscapes of contemporary urban life – the very elements I admire in post-modern futurism."
Tell us a little about yourself ( you are from) and your background in the arts.
I was born and raised in Hamedan, one of the oldest cities in Iran. My entire scholastic background is in the arts, from undergraduate in Iran to my masters studies in fine art/painting in the US.
What kind of work are you currently making?
Currently, I’m working on a series of silkscreen prints based on my recent trip to Yucatan, Mexico.The bold colors of yellow, red, and pink used in the architecture there have been very influential on the work. I have been privileged to work on this project with the master printer, Larry Wright, who worked with Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and many other renown artists.
Additionally, I have an ongoing project of ‘Interiors’, on mylar and canvas. This body of work is about movement, form, and color. For the past two years I have been focused on interior spaces, exploring the shapes and repetition of forms in interiors of modern architecture. For example: spiral staircases – I am interested in the shape and the endless opportunity of their structure by changing the perspective of looking up or sideways. Abstracting these forms floral-like that feels deeply familiar.
The curvatures and layering mimics the decorative elements of Iranian historical architecture with botanic decoration. By unifying the color palette, these interior spaces become their own botanical body.
What is a day like in the studio for you?
I usually work on several pieces at the same time. I like to spend the first 30 minutes sitting and looking around at the works finished and in progress in the studio to get to the mindset of what direction I will be taking the works and what each piece needs in order to be completed. I keep my studio quiet in order to stay focused only on the work.
I work on mostly unstretched pieces and stretch the work afterwards. Most of the process is done on the floor. As for the base and first layers of the work, it’s liquid paint. Laying the piece on the floor allows me to direct the paint to any direction I need.
What are you looking at right now and/or reading?
I have been looking at cutouts by Mattise and silkscreen prints by Rauschenberg. It is always refreshing to look at the simplicity of the forms and vibrancy of colors in Mattise’s work in that series and layering and composition in Rauschenberg's.
My interest in interior spaces had led me to reading the Endless Space by Frederick J. Kiesler, who was an architect, designer, sculptor, and painter who had a radical new concept of interior spaces. The idea of creating an endless space fascinates me.
Where can we find more of your work?
I have a solo exhibition scheduled for 2024 at Haggerty Art Gallery in Dallas, TX.