Articles | Visual Arts
“In order to Create, One must First Destroy”/An Interview with Parvaneh Etemadi

Parvaneh Etemadi in an interview with Parviz Barati from Sharq Newspaper  
Translated by Roya Monajem

Parviz Barati- According to Parvaneh Etemadi, she has acquired Bahman Mohassess’ taste and Jalal Al-Ahmad’s courage. She is Frank. Yet, frankness is just one of her personality. She challenges the  current form of knowledge and cognition and expresses far-fetched concepts with new modules, which provokes positive and negative reactions to her approach. Last year, her name appeared on the 11th list of 500 artists of the world together with four other Iranian artists, Farhad Moshiri, Reza Derakhshani, Ali Banisadr and Shirin Neshat. Each year in October FIAC - International Contemporary Art Fair in Paris - together with Art Price - the most important source of art market in the world- publish a report which is a criterion for analysis of the situation of contemporary global art from economic and artistic point of view. In the last Tehran Art Auction, one of Etemadi’s ‘untitled’ works was sold for 240 million Toumans. Etemadi usually shuns interviews. However, all this together with a more important pretext of the fiftieth anniversary of her artistic career was the motivation for the present interview, thanks to Shokoufeh Malek-Kiani.


Parvaneh’s Studio

Barati (B)-One of the less known angles of your work is the painting classes you held for 25 years starting from 70s. When did these classes actually start and from where?

Etemadi (E)- They were first held in a studio in Khaneqah alleyway in Saidi Street. My workshop has always been my home, but at that time, considering myself as a professional painter i set up a painting studio which later became my workshop. What i mean is that those interested in learning painting or buying my works came directly to me.

B- Why there?

E- By sheer accident. An acquaintance let me use his property which was an old printing house as a studio. He was a fair person, as I had no income at that time. So our contract was a painting in return to each month’s  rent. When he decided to sell his property, I moved to here in Yusefabad district where i had two desks, five easels and that was all. I guided my pupils in the way they were and not in the way i was. Some loved my colored pencil paintings so much that they just wanted to paint like me. I advised them to at least make their copies more meticulously. They were free to use any material. I just observed them and helped them in practice. I taught them the technique of ‘seeing,’  noticing similarities and differences, shifting the phenomena to another place and another time in their minds and how art is a continuous course of discovery and invention. In order to practice that we sometimes looked at the objects upside down to liberate ourselves from habits and instead take other things into account.


B- So in fact you established an “anti-art-college”…

E- Where I was, no matter what you call it was not an academy, but rather a workshop where anybody with any amount of knowledge and any vision could work and evolve, and it was these inner changes which fulfilled and encouraged them. No doubt, their good exercises were exhibited at Seyhoun gallery and in this way they could pay their tuition, their working tools and material, it was like a booty.  In this way they were acquainted with the various ways of becoming professional. I did not teach art history, because i thought that would add to their expectations and would dissuade them in the sense that they would imagine they are not talented enough. They approached art masters like saints, as though they had come from another world for creating such masterpieces. In addition, when there is all this confusion and misunderstanding between the artwork, artist and interpreters, how could I be sure of my own interpretations.

I was happy with my pupils. Every day I would see the world from their points of views and was amused. A few of them who did well later, like Avish Kherbreh-zadeh who won the gold medal of Venice Biennial or Reza Danshmir or Sadeq Tirafkan and a couple of others taught me as well. I reflected upon their questions. I had to be familiar with their beliefs, feelings and views to be able to walk with them and reach some conclusions. They too were happy working with me, but  there was no reason to stay with me, instead they had to depart with love to pursue their own individual way.

B- Apparently, it was not easy to get into your studio…

E-Yes, there was an entrance exam.

B- How did you test them?

E- The way they dressed themselves was important for me. Nobody had to look better than others. It was not a competition in ostentation. Honesty with a simple smiling dialogue, mutual trust and even the sweetness of the food they made was the test.. In short, personal pupils are tested constantly in an individual way. Some arrived with a reactionary mind wishing to learn painting. They would say we have studied drawing, and now we have come to learn painting.

 I talked to them about how the scope of drawing extends to food, fashion design, and a lot of other things… It was only then that they took the point. Sometimes I was forced to assess the degree of their creativity by asking them to instantly make a dish of celery, potato and onion. If Picasso could not make fried eggs, he had to eat his art.

B- How long did they continue their training?

E- 25 years, but of course not all of them. To tell you the truth, they could stay as long as they liked, but for 25 years I carried out all this work with them shoulder to shoulder.

B- Did you give them a certificate?

E- No. They achieved financial and spiritual success. That was the best and sweetest certificate possible.

B- Did they attend art college simultaneously?

E- Again, to tell you the truth, I did not accept art college students, because they expected too much of art, whether of their own or Art per se. I tried to choose the less experienced and younger ones.

B- They came to you when very young?

E- They were of any age. For example, there was a middle-age woman with her husband who owned a factory.

B- How old were Reza Daneshmir or Avish Khebreh-zadeh when they started their lessons with you?

E- Ms. Khebrehzadeh was 13. Her father brought her here. There was also a 12 years old girl who came with her mother and they both worked. Daneshmir was at that time studying architecture at the university.


Qandriz, Qandriz Hall

B- Before setting up your own studio at Sadi street, you were active at Qandriz Hall?

E-That goes back before Qandriz. That was when I was studying at College of Art and Architecture. I remember one day when I went to the university and Ms. Behjat was our teacher, she told me, you better leave the college as soon as you can and pursue your own path. Of course, she had a good point there. The Art college ruined one’s taste. I used to fail or just pass the exams, while my works were regarded exceptional, hard to compare with the works of others. I left the university and joined the painters at Qandriz Hall, which was the opposite pole of Tehran University. I was proud that I was the only female member of the Hall. To make it short, in search of real art i worked with them shoulder to shoulder, and maybe even harder than them. Whenever an exhibition was postponed, I would try to fill the gap and compensate. 

B-Analyzing the artistic changes of 60s and 70s shows that three paradigms of Nationalism, Leftism and Traditionalism played a significant role in general development of Iranian Contemporary Art. From this perspective, the relation of Qandriz Hall with the left trends was noticeable. Qandriz Hall was somehow against the general nationalist policy which was one of the most fundamental doctrines of Pahlavi Rule, particularly Secular Nationalism which was an important component of Pahlavi era. Don’t you agree?

E- Your question reminded me of Romantic films of the Resistant forces against French Fascism and Nazis, the forces which were made up of Partisans and Artists with Romantic Revolutionary relations…Dear Mr. Barati, when I was working at Qandriz Hall, we would talk all nights about conceptualism and if any energy was left was spent on analyzing the materials of Carlos Fontana and Wassail Kandinsky, finally going home exhausted, but fulfilled. The next session could be showing our works to each other, their meticulous dissection and critique… 

B- Why was Qandriz Hall against Saqakhaneh Movement?

E- To tell you the truth, I never liked Saqkhaneh Movement. If there were such a thing as Saqakhaneh School, what it was doing was copying compositions on magic, superstition and… having enchanting visual effects, appearing very native and original in the eyes of foreigners. If we work in a contemporary way, what have we to do  with superstitious or traditionalist traditions?! Unless we are producing works which tourists would love.

B-Qandriz members used to say that they are looking for a revolutionary art, is it true?

E- Basically, an artist is a revolutionary, revolution lies in the artist’s essence. Revolting against old structures, modifying them in the hope of reproducing them. Certain arts have a consumption period and are gradually overthrown by the passage of time and the change of circumstances.

B- Were you still connected to Qandriz Hall, when you founded Parvaneh’s Studio?

E-Two years before the revolution, Qandriz moved from Jomhuri to Bucharest Street, Argentine Square, and I became the manager because others were too busy. I convinced others that we needed to sell works and use the percentage on the expansion of our activities. The Hall lasted two years, but we decided to close it down during the martial laws enacted before the revolution.


Differentiation of Art and Creativity?

B- You differentiate Art from Creativity?


B- Did you believe in that when you taught children?

E- With children, there are other pedagogic methods. 8-12 years old children with whom I worked, needed to learn and know about their natural surroundings before they could learn what Art can be. I used that to teach them, just to stimulate their personal curiosity, holding their interest through practical amusements. After going through this training, as their mothers usually informed me, those kids had developed an deeper interest in Natural Sciences. Even if those kids did not become Artists, they were at least attracted to another world. Many carry the name of artist, and produce so-called artistic works. There are clients which buy beautiful works to decorated their homes with, but we do not know whether these works are by a creative artist or a sly artisan. That is where the art professional plays the role of using his/her technical skills to make the distinction. A creative person develops an obsession toward the object of her/his inquiry, which will not leave him/her alone until getting somewhere.

B- Why did you close your studio?

E- I was tired. I taught as much as I could and went on my own way, making my colleges of “The Dowry of Fairy Princess.” I used the bad prints of my colored pencil works, as my material, turning all those colors and forms into the figures in outfits dancing in the wind, and held an exhibition in Niavaran Cultural Center, and some were sent abroad.




B- The variety of media used in your works, from colored pencils to video and cement has a significant role. Did you advise your pupils to do the same?

E- Ah, yes. I always have regarded and regard animation as the future of painting. I sent a couple of them to the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults to work with Nafiseh Riahi to learn the techniques. Avish has integrated animation in her solid drawings very well. They have surely worked in other fields and media too. In my class, to become a painter was not the imperative.

B- Wasn’t it really necessary to become a painter?

E- No matter in what they were most talented, they displayed its artistic aspect.

B- Weren’t you interested in multiplying yourself?

E-(with a laughter) I don’t even know what to do with myself.

B- Your son Mehrdad, was he in your studio from the beginning too?

E-Yes, he was grown up among them.

B- Did you publish any “call” for your classes?

E- There was no need for that, because i did not have time to go to the Ministry of Culture for permission. After a few years of work, the ministry sent me a first degree certificate which is still in one of the drawers there. In other to join my classes, the recommendation of an acquaintance was enough.

B- How much was your tuition fee?

E- From 800  to finally 10,000 Toumans per month.

B- Did you give any certificate to your pupils?

E- (with laughter) Do I have any certificates, myself? Certificates do not produce real sportsmen or artists.


In the Presence of Bahman Mohassess

B- You were Bahman Mohassess’ pupil. Had he the same approach in teaching?

E- I had given him this role. I always told my pupils that it is you who learn. I don’t teach you anything. Without having any receptors for something, one can not learn. One always learns from one’s own abilities. The teacher reminds one of something and the rest is collected in one’s mind. When Mohassess had classes with me, he would sometime bring a friend or a company and while i was drawing, they talked. True that my hands were busy, but my ears were not idle either! Later he would laugh and say, when he received the envelop containing his tuition fee, he always went to Naderi Cafe with his company and spent it there.

B- Where did Mohassess live?

E- In the second floor of his mother’s house in Safi Ali Shah district. He came to our house to teach.

India, Mohassess and Mysteries


B- When did you first discover India?

E- At 18 or 19, after reading two or three books, I fell in love with India. One of them was Nehru’s “Glimpses at the World History,” and the other I don’t remember its name. The first time I landed in India, I felt the smell once stepping out of the airplane. A blow of humidity, sugarcane, cotton and spices hit my face and my feet sank down. Colored starched turbines and Java tree which had purpled the air, kept me there. In those trips to India, I came to know the world of Indian artists and we carried out some joint paintings, which turned out to be very successful.

Painting with Colored Pencils

B- How did you discover colored pencils?

E- Bahaman Mohassess used to say there should be an easel and a box of 6 colored pencils in every studio. Even if the artist works on the floor, on a desk, wherever. In my studio, there already were colored pencils and i began to work with them, and playing with them was pleasurable and calming. My old pupil, Mehdi Jadali too worked very well with them and had successful exhibitions in Tehran and Dubai. I don’t think anybody else would have the courage and perseverance to work with them anymore.

B- Did you sell your works to art galleries?

E-No, at the beginning there were actually no art-galleries. Later, anybody who got bored would open a gallery in their garage. I sent my colored pencils works to Abi Restaurant in Chalus Road, letting them to hand there for a while, but I sold them in my studio.

B- What do you think of art at present?

E-The world is changing and art is changing with it. As the Indians say: it is the age of Kali’s Resurrection, the goddess of destruction and creativity. No doubt, a renaissance will emerge out of all this demolition and ruin, carrying a bag of discoveries, innovation and creativity on its shoulder.

Source: Sharq Newspaper, 16 April 2017