Focus on Afshin Naghouni

Afshin Naghouni is an Iranian visual artist who’s been living in London for the past 15 years. His life motto is to ‘live now, today. I’m trying not to look on the future to0 much, not to worry about it, I want to enjoy the moment!’ which works very well with his art that is mostly dedicated to criticizing modern social and political issues.

I remember the day when we have met for the first time, I was an intern for a fashion brand last spring, in shared studio space in West London. I reckon seeing his “Eve” painting, fulfilled with quotes that at the first glance seemed very offensive towards women. Although, Naghouni artwork is a combination of different art techniques aiming to reveal the reality of the world. He often argues against the idealised image provided by the media and the government.

This time, we met on a chilly afternoon in front of Hay Hill Gallery in Baker Street, to talk about his work and the documentary that had recently been made about his life. He was cheerful and full of energy and, as usual, holding Marlboro cigarette in his hand. His dark, shoulder length hair flowed over his leather jacket. He was about to head off to San Fransisco for the screening of the film and to give a talk at Stanford University. Naghouni is a very private person, and our conversation was mostly focused on his artwork. 
The making of “Out of focus” began in 2012, and a large extent of it was dedicated to Afshin’s early work as well as the unfortunate accident he faced at the age of 25 which ultimately changed the course of his life. ‘I went to my friend’s birthday party. Which in Iran are illegal. You couldn’t just have music, alcohol, men and women together. The party was interrupted by the police, so I ran on the top of the roof along with other people, and I fell from the 6th floor.’ After injuring his spinal cord, he was unable to move for two years and ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. ‘I still don’t have 100% movement in my fingers and my hands, so I had to adapt my style of application and the way I have been using the paint’.

‘Out of focus’ is made by Shahriar Siami, who’s also an Iranian, documentary filmmaker, working for the BBC. The film has already won prizes such as the Merit at the San Fransisco Film Festival for the best international documentary and the best photography at the Rome Film Festival. Film will be screened in London during London Crystal Palace Film Festival in November.

Naghouni uses his paintings as a way to interact and connect with his audience and to portray and argue contemporary life values. His work reflects a rather melancholic mood, which is used to illustrate his thoughts and emotions. The message is being passed through a variety of different methods. One being the use of female nudity to criticise the contemporary society and its beliefs. He portrays, for example, naked women surrounded by quotes from the Quran and Bible. The nude paintings allow the audience to connect with the art piece on any level they prefer. However, if looked beyond the nudity, one can come to the realisation that there is much more to his paintings. Naghouni uses a figure of a women’s body to portray what the media and society believe to be the idealised and perfect image.

The ‘Eve’ painting itself looks like a cover of a fashion magazine and it’s only when you take a closer look, you realise that there are quotations from the Bible around the image. There’s another piece which shows a woman wearing a hijab covered with Arabic writing all over it, which Naghouni translated from the contemporary women magazine, Cosmopolitan. Within his art, he explains how women are treated in Eastern Islamic societies, in comparison to the European beliefs. “They project this picture of what the perfect women is and what the ideal women should be: how she should behave, look, speak, and act. If you don’t fit in in that picture then does it mean that you are not accepted or not good enough?’

He channels his inspirations from the world around him. Seeing something in his everyday life will allow him to be creative and will therefore, inspires his work. Naghouni’s art is also triggered by TV commercials as they play a significant role in his work. The process itself starts with an idea which could either be conceptual, a form, or even a colour. This is used as almost a spark which ultimately inspires his work and allows him to transform an idea or image onto the canvas. ‘I have an image forming slowly and gradually in front of my eyes and in my head that I want the result to look alike. When I start executing the work, painting, there are unexpected things that happen. I leave a lot of my work to accidents and just let them happen. In the end, you allow your work to take its own course, with a little bit of my directions here and there.’ He explained that his ‘final work is usually different to how I imagined it.’