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Published on July 13, 2021

Afarin Rahmanifar

Women of Shahnameh, Azarmidokht & Porandokht, 72 x 48, mixed media 2021, image courtesy of the artist

In the 20th century, artists have critically addressed personal and historical migration issues in their work. And consequently, generated a range of possibilities for acclaimed artists to create great work. This new exercise broadly situated modern and contemporary artwork by people of diaspora.


I grew up in Tehran and later lived in exile in the United States in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Experimental approach has always been fundamental to my conceptual ideas. Large scale mixed media painting, installation, and animation film production enables me to consider multiple options to explore innovative techniques.

Imaginary images of contemporary representational women in my work have several meanings depending on viewer’s qualitative and personal lived experiences.

I mostly like to envision myself among these symbolic women to recite and tell their stories.

I take great interest in investigating women’s historic roles involving works of poetry to amplify contemporary women’s voice, power and Identity. The tension, chromatic energy, fragmented body parts, and poetic scripts in my work reflect the challenges I faced while adjusting identity in my new life.

My recent work showcases the female characters from Ferdowsi’s 10th century epic poem, Shahnameh (Persian Book of Kings), a literary masterpiece in the Persian world and diaspora.

I subvert the classic narrative of Shahnameh which highlights and exploits male characters who dominate the work. I reposition and illuminate the compassionate, brave, loyal, and sensuous women from the periphery to the center of the epic. I highlight the considerable roles these women played in supporting and enabling the successes of the kings and heroic male characters in Shahnameh.


I acknowledge Simin Behbahani as an influential and integral activist character in current Iranian women’s movement. She contributed to historical development of Persian poetry by adding theatrical subjects into her work. Simin has been a role model for many women artists and writers and able to maintain a love of her culture and people in her work. “Our Tears Are Sweet, Our Laughter Venomous” focuses on the challenges facing women’s anxiety in the wake of Islamic revolution and women’s rights.

Afarin Rahmanifar