21 Aug 2014
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Portrait of the Iranian Artist as a Young Man

Roozbeh Jafarzadeh, a multifaceted artist from Tehran, discusses his newfound freedom of expression since moving to Pleasanton.

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"What do you like about art?"

"I think art likes me," replies 35-year-old Roozbeh Jafarzadeh, smiling.

"It chose me. I didn’t choose it,” says the Tehran-native Jafarzadeh, describing the need to create art that has compelled him to paint, draw, and make short films since he was a young child sketching comic books in Iran.

His parents wanted him to be an engineer. They had prepared him, Jafarzadeh explains, to study math in high school. He ended up majoring in graphic design at the University of Tehran and began a professional career in art during college.

Now, the Farsi-and-English-speaking artist finds himself two months into his new life in Pleasanton, California. He wears a collared polo in the house of his uncle-in-law, Mahmoud Amirriazi, who helps translate the hard-to-describe (even in Persian) aspects of Jafarzadeh’s art in Iran. 

“There are many restrictions in Iran for art and media,” says Jafarzadeh. “You can’t draw very freely.”

Jafarzadeh finds that the difficulty of free expression occurs when he tries to capture Iran’s social politics. His art, with expressionist overtones and subtle references to erotic imagery, female oppression, and political power, caused quite a stir back East.

While in Iran, Jafarzadeh held five private exhibitions of his work, as well as several group exhibitions in collaboration with other artists from Germany and Turkey. His political cartoons have been published all over Europe and Azerbaijan, and featured in more than 20 exhibits.

“Everything in Iran is political,” he says.

And political messages, especially those critical of the government, were among the most sensitive subjects for Jafarzadeh.

“The government has such an influence on all aspects of life,” his uncle-in-law Mahmoud adds.

“When something happens to [Jafarzadeh], he internalizes it in his art.” 

Iran’s political turmoil, including the Green Movement after the 2009 Iranian elections, are experiences that Jafarzadeh remembers clearly, but hesitates to talk about.

Instead, he channels his feelings into his art, and has produced a short film about the election. 

Yet his emotions surrounding the social and political issues of his home country do not dampen his love for its rich art history.

“Iranian art is different from Islamic art,” Jafarzadeh explains, gesturing to the crimson Persian rug beneath our feet.

He describes Iranian art’s characteristic motifs of flora, fauna, and rich colors, the classic Persian miniature painting style, and the ahead-of its-time technique.

“Persians were using abstractions in perspective even before Picasso,” Jafarzadeh says, and he considers Picasso, along with Joan Miró, to be his favorite artist. 

For Jafarzadeh, he says his new life in America has been a blessing.

He left Iran with his wife, also a graphic designer, when she found a job opportunity in the US.

He came with her, seeking better contacts and the freedom of expression.

“It’s very beautiful here,” Jafarzadeh says of California.

“The people are very easy going, kind. I love them.”

He smiles.

“And I love San Francisco.”

Jafarzadeh has already met a group of Iranian artists in San Francisco and has begun to adjust to living in America.

Of his neighbors, he says that he is impressed by their open-minded curiosity.

“When they hear that I am from Iran, they want to know the truth about my country,” he says. “They insist on learning.” 

Jafarzadeh is learning too. While most of his art remains in Iran, he has already bought new canvasses, and is ready to paint again.

“I wish other artists in countries without freedom to express themselves have opportunities like this,” he says. “I am eternally grateful.”

Examples of Jafarzadeh's work are viewable in the photo gallery. He is actively looking for galleries and festivals to showcase his work. If you are interested, please reply to the author via Patch, or leave us a comment.

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