Persona December, 30th 2021 by

World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 347 - Narges Mohammadi

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World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 347 – Narges Mohammadi
Narges Mohammadi recently won the 2021 Piket Prize for the visual arts. I talk to her about her art and the prize in the Coffeecompany at Noordeinde in The Hague, near Noordeinde Palace, the work palace of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima.
The jury motivated its choice as follows: “Narges Mohammadi came to the Netherlands from Afghanistan as a seven-year-old girl. Her personal experiences naturally play a role in her work, but what she creates is more universal than ‘Afghanistan’ and transcends the current discussion. Everything about Narges exudes a great passion to create and everything she makes is equally well thought out. Her work shows quality and potential.”
The enthusiasm really shines through. Narges is not only an artist, but also a curator and DJ. Just looking at the projects of the past two years makes you dizzy. So many different initiatives, almost always realized in groups.

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What is her work about? Narges: “It’s about being human. I try to be in the nuance between reality and truth. Going back to what binds us humans: especially emotions. Things we all experience: joy, love. We can share that.”
Narges uses stories to determine which forms are appropriate. “I’m kind of a puzzler. Where does the story come from? How did the story develop? Gradually I find out what the puzzle pieces look like, how many pieces there are. Only then can you see what the puzzle represents, not only in my experience, but also in the experience of the other. I playfully discover what I want to convey and in the end the puzzle is solved.”

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It all started as a joke, she says. “I lived with my family in North Limburg. When I finished secondary school I decided to move to Utrecht. There I went to study psychology, which was easy and convenient for me. But despite that, it didn’t feel quite right. I just didn’t fit. I wanted to do something that made me happy in high school: crafts and drawing. I switched to Language and Culture Studies – with focus on modern and contemporary art and I went to do the Saturday training of the HKU (Utrecht University of the Arts). Art was a fun new hobby. Gradually I became obsessed with it. I was working on it day and night, from 8 a.m. to 12 at night / 1 a.m.”
She made many paintings in which she broke the boundaries of the two-dimensional by adding objects, frills and other textures. “After two years I felt I was ready for a new step and I transferred to the KABK (the Royal Academy of Art) in The Hague, mainly because of the more international character of the program and the opportunity to study ‘autonomous art’.”

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Turning point
Three years ago, she reached a turning point. “Am I going into the fourth year or do I stop with the KABK? I felt that the art that I (and others) made at the KABK was not sufficient. I missed recognition of, for example, Mediterranean culture, broadly understood: Persian culture and culture of the Middle East and a belief in the group/society. I decided to make one last work and based on that make the decision to stay or leave. It had to be something I found interesting. I let go of everything and started making a metal object: a swing. That was something very new for me. I turned out to really enjoy welding.”
She also had a place for that swing: the Van Doeveren Park (Van Doeveren plantsoen). Next to the park is a large educational building with art spaces (including Billytown). The school is surrounded by a neighborhood where many families with different cultural backgrounds live. “I wanted to have contact with those children and the swing was a beautiful and accessible tool. I also wanted to welcome the children to the Art building.”
The project ‘See you on the other side’ with the swing was shown last March at FRAMER / FRAMED in Amsterdam as part of the exhibition ‘Funeral for the street culture’.

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She decided to stay at the Royal Academy for another year and obtained her Bachelor’s degree. Her graduation work was ‘Passing Traces’. The ingredients consisted of 700 kg of Persian halvah (flour, sugar, butter and cardamom) and two wooden constructions. All the walls of the room were smeared with the Persian delicacy halvah. ”The walls depict impressions of a sober bedroom interior. The furniture leaves traces of a long-lost presence.”
After the swing project ‘See you on the other side’, the barrier was broken and everything accelerated. In 2019 she started the New Radicalism project together with A(WAKE) to give a voice to digital talents in art and culture from the Middle East. They came to perform at a four-day festival on the occasion of Art Rotterdam. Together with Ayla Aron, she founded ‘beuys bois’ with an international artists’ collective, a queer space in The Hague.

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Collaboration with TV program ‘Moonriders’
She received an art assignment from the VU Medical Center and made ‘Clean Desire’ (Schoon Verlangen), from which a suitcase of soap eventually emerged. She came up with the idea because she had to wash her hands so often during the corona period. Clean Desire embodies a journey of an intimate encounter with soap. 200 kg of the well-known, widely accessible and price-friendly deaf regular cream bar is cut by hand, liquefied, hardened and slowly cut by hand. During the hand washing and fingernail scraping, the shape of the suitcase slowly emerged from the soap. It was also featured in ‘Moonriders’.
Children’s stories from the distant past

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She became artist-in-residence in the Omstand art space in Arnhem and made the work ‘In Gratitude’, a cube, finished with plaster. “Inside, it looks abstractly modernist, with steps up and down, all corners straight, symmetrical. It has something of a bunker, the space is small.” It is a tribute to her mother and actually all mothers.
As part of the exhibition ‘Who Wants to Live in A World Without Magic?’ curated by Katayoun Arian in TENT (Rotterdam), she recalled the children’s stories from a distant past in ‘Attempts for Refuge’ for two moments. “As a child I was fascinated by the hallway, the space between the living room and the outside world. I remember my desire to hide in the closet, quietly creep in, and imagine other realities to wander in.”
For the documentary film festival IDFA she made a spoken word program in de Brakke Grond inspired by the film ‘Wild Relatives’ by filmmaker Jumana Manna.

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Simple and easy
And so we can continue. Narges Mohammadi is in a flow that has not stopped for the time being. How does she keep an overview? Narges: “The past year was full, but I have found my own rhythm. I now have to complete the administration of the past year and start planning the administration for the coming year. During my student days I had to learn to plan. I had the HKU, the university and also a part-time job at the time.”
Finally, what is her philosophy? “I want to emphasize that things can be simple and easy. A simple gesture can make contact. That works very well for others and for myself. I don’t need a whole lot of theoretical/research methodological underpinning. Otherwise, Suitcases (‘Clean Desire’) would never have come into existence.”
1 – 2) Attempts for refuge, TENT, photo Aad Hoogendoorn, 3) Straw bathroom, photo Rob Groot Zevert, 4) photo Narges, In Gratitude, photo Ivonne Zijp , 5 – 6) Passing Traces, photo Io Sivertsen, 7- 8 ) Clean Desire, photo Julia Schmitz 

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