Keep the faith  

Self and nurture by Khashayar Salmanzadeh. Photo by Bo Wong

THE little-known and persecuted Bahá’í Faith was the inspiration for a stunning portrait by Iranian-born Khashayar Salmanzadeh in this year’s Hatched exhibition at PICA.

Featuring 26 graduates from 21 art schools across Australia, the annual exhibition is an opportunity for Sandgropers to enjoy some of the nation’s best young artistic talent all under one roof. 

Salmanzadeh, who graduated in Fine Art from Curtin University in 2022, may never have studied painting if his Bahá’í parents hadn’t moved from Iran to Australia in 2008, when he was just seven.

“My parents largely moved for their children to have access to education as Baháʼí’s face intense religious persecution in Iran,” he says.

“This includes the inability of Iranian Bahá’í’s to receive tertiary education, a right which having just graduated, I am very grateful for.”

Founded in the 19th century, the Baháʼí Faith was initially developed in Iran and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception.

The faith has around eight million followers worldwide who believe in the unity of God, the unity of religion and the unity of humanity, and that God will periodically reveal his will through divine messengers.

“The writings of the Bahá’í Faith are very significant to my practice, as they are not only universal in their message but also incredibly beautiful and vivid in the imagery they invoke,” Salmanzadeh says.

“For example, Bahá’u’lláh in the Hidden Words states ‘In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold.’

“It is meditation on passages like these that inspire the intention and imagery of many of my paintings.”

For his stunning 2022 oil painting Self and nurture, featured in Hatched, Salmanzadeh did a portrait of his dear friend Asha, a Ngadju woman and member of the Bahá’í community in Perth.

“This portrait was an investigation into the various powers of love and how it manifests on a personal level,” he says. “Questioning how self-love can be distinguished from selfishness, this portrait intertwines twin aspects to Asha’s spiritual self by marrying her heritage as an Aboriginal woman with her identity as a Bahá’í.

“Here, the portrait tries to address a universal truth, that love is in its essence a spiritually nurturing force, by depicting a member of a religious minority whose teachings are largely unknown.”

Up until last year, Salmanzadeh preferred working with acrylics, but he has since switched to oils for their “lusciousness and buttery quality.”

Growing up, one of his biggest influences was multi-disciplinary Australian artist Abdul Abdullah, whose Muslim identity and portraits helped convince Salmanzadeh he could become an artist too. He also admires the art of Cristina Troufa, Shirin Neshat and the late Hossein Valamanesh. Salmanzadeh says his Iranian heritage gives his paintings an interesting fusion quality.

“…many migrants feel a sense of cultural displacement as their identities become hybridised between differing worlds,” he says.

“I think that’s been a big influence on my art, as I amalgamate western styles of portraiture with eastern traditions of calligraphy. In many ways, each painting is also a self-portrait, an imprint of my own identity and the securities and insecurities that encapsulates.”

Salmanzadeh is currently doing a “challenging” Honours in Fine Art at RMIT University in Melbourne and says he would love to become a full-time artist after establishing a body of work through collaborations, group exhibitions and art competitions.

“It’ll take time but I’m here for the long haul!” he says.

Hatched: National Graduate Show is at the PICA gallery in Northbridge until July 23. For more details see pica.org.au

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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