Briefly describe the work you do.
I make mixed media figurative sculptures using upcycled textiles, old furniture and used clothing. I generally hand-sew my work without the use of adhesives or other tools. Most of the time I find myself gravitating towards life-size pieces.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I grew up in Tehran, where I did my BFA in painting as well as an MA in animation. I moved to Canada in 2008 to begin my MFA. Although I mainly consider myself a painter, although, I have worked equally with various other media, such as video, photography, and installation art. I have recently started working with textile, which is a completely new medium for me. I didn’t have any background in sewing, but I’m learning as I go. I generally don’t start my work with a sketch or a plan. I have a rough image in my mind and I just go for it. I drift toward what’s calling me from inside. I think it’s a healthy process.
Being a woman shapes a lot of my curiosities and inspirations. I’m infatuated with women, their bodies and their visual qualities. My work is in a way a longing for intimacy. I like to show the desires of the body being exposed. I want to focus on the oddness of the body, with all its dysfunctions.
Overall, I can say the human body, and more specifically the female body, are my main artistic stimulants.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I live and work in the same space. It’s really difficult for me to separate them, both conceptually and physically. Un-attaching my art from where my food and clothes are, always feels unnatural to me. I think my art is an extension of my personal life. I know a lot of artist peers work much better with the forced discipline that comes with a divided studio. But that really just drags me out of my element. Besides, the nature of my work is in some ways very domestic. Patching and stitching are folk practices traditionally performed by women in the comfort of their living space, which I consider quite therapeutic as well.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
The role of being an “artist” is unique in itself. Artists play this role very differently depending how comfortable they are with themselves or depending on the level of their career. I often find the ‘role’ of networking and self-marketing irritating in some ways. When this happens naturally, it’s great; but often artists have to actively engage and promote themselves socially if they want to keep up with the game. I find myself playing this role or game too sometimes, which is, frankly, very odd for me.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I am quite sharp and open-minded in the mornings. Normally after doing my daily online duties (!) I get right at it. But I mostly just try to go with the flow. I tend to have a rough schedule in mind of how much time I’d like to spend on making each day, and then work towards that throughout the day. I definitely sleep better when I achieve my target.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I like to think that I have evolved both artistically and personally in the past five years. I think as an artist you should always search for new means and media through which to express. I have experimented with various techniques and avenues in the past few years, but I find my new sculpture series “soft soul” to be closer to my heart than anything I have done in recent years. Regardless of all that, my interests and concerns remain similar. My art has almost continually been about opposites: hard vs. soft, perfect vs. imperfect. The human body has remained my context, whether I use it in video, painting or textile.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Absolutely. People are my greatest artistic inspiration. I ask non-artist friends for their opinions on my work constantly. I think they can be the most reliable critiques. Great minds have always intellectually aroused me. I think a major portion of the consciousness of a visual artist is shaped by what they read, listen to, or watch. These days I really enjoy a good fiction. Decent stories provoke imagination in me the most.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I like psychology. I care about people a lot. I am intrigued by their weaknesses, their challenges, and their sadness. I can definitely relate to all of that. Although I know to be functional as a psychologist, you need to be permeable and let other people’s problems just go through you, and I may be the opposite of that. I usually keep all that in.
Hoda Zarbaf was born in Tehran, where she completed her BFA in painting. She moved to Canada in 2008 to start an MFA at University of Windsor. Throughout her creative career – as an artist dwelling in diverse places – she has formed a peculiar language of affection alongside solitude. She is infatuated with bodily exposures and displays. Her work has steadily been a display of social, emotional, and gender dualities.
Hoda uses pre-owned clothing, upcycled everyday fabrics, and old furniture to make her fantastical figurative sculptures. Collecting the abandoned clothes, which have been intimately in touch with anonymous humans’ bodies, and uniting them artistically in her work, is Hoda’s struggle to reconnect with the past and yearning for a missing intimacy.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.