Nava Derakhshani is an emerging, New York based, multimedia artist. She was born to Iranian parents in eSwatini, Africa. She studied architecture at the University of Cape Town and worked in South Africa and India on low-cost eco-housing and urban design. Her Masters in Sustainable Development took her to rural Ethiopia researching the spiritual and historic ties to farming and conservation. Through creative workshops and embedded research, she worked with NGOs such as Oxfam and PLAN International on gender-related themes. She also worked and organized in grassroots organizations as a staff photographer and as a participatory action researcher focusing on community-led approaches. She facilitated methods such as Photovoice and Collaborative Video to strengthen communities to voice their challenges. In 2018 she co-authored the chapter “Transformative Storywork: Creative Pathways for Social Change'' in the Springer Handbook of Communication for Development and Social Change. Her 2014 project on food and family was recognized by the UN FAO and exhibited at their headquarters in Rome. Her Daughters of Dust podcast about Iranian migrants to Africa was shortlisted for the 2019 NPR Google podcast award. Her photography has been exhibited at the Queer Feminist Film Festival in South Africa, her ceramic works are represented by Eclectia Contemporary Gallery and were shown at the 2019 Johannesburg International Art Fair. She is a graduate of the International Centre for Photography New Media Narratives program, where she used video, performance, and collage on her project Zaneh Parsiyeh Khareji which explored the nuances of her mixed identity.
Born to Iranian parents in exile, I grew up with tales of strong women in my personal, religious, and political histories. From the infamous poet Tahirih, of the 1800’s who boldly unveiled herself in a public gathering, standing for the rights of women to be free and equal members of society, to present day human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, defying the death penalty. In Persian mythology too, women are depicted as determined figures, altering histories with their wit and passion. My work stands in the light of Iranian women, inspired by their fierce determination to stand for what they believe in, despite the consequences: execution as was the fate for Tahirih and unjust incarceration for Nasrin.
My work is inspired not only by grand heroic acts, but also by everyday rebellions that Iranian women are expressing today. I witness these through social media and through stories from family and friends from Iran. Small acts of wearing makeup and pushing the ru-sari back to show more and more hair, are all acts of radical revolt which have notable penalties in Iran. My work is also inspired by movements such as “My Stealthy Freedom”, “Men in Hijab” and “White Wednesday” where women remove their veils in acts of rebellion, or where men put them on in acts of allyship.
Based on ongoing research, this work is a deeply personal delve into the nuances of my cultural identity, generating a visual commentary on Persian womanhood, referencing Iranian art, culture, and discourses. I use portraits and collages in combination to delve into the layers of the political and cultural nuances of Iranian femininity, framed within contexts of liberation, expression, and control. I ask, how has this affected my idea of self and expression today, while living in a vastly different part of the world.
To view more of Nava Derakhshani’s work please visit their website.