Persian-American painter Maryam Safajoo’s paintings tell stories of persistent persecution that the Iranian Baha’i community has experienced since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Many of her artworks tell stories the artist, now based in West Virginia, has witnessed first-hand.
Safajoo’s exhibition Forsaking All Comfort and Prosperity opens Oct 6 in the Hodges Gallery of the Albany Museum of Art, where it will continue through Jan 28, 2023. Her work tells the stories of persecution that include murder, arrest, detainment, and interrogation. Each painting is inspired by a real event that she has painstakingly researched.
“My paintings narrate these stories which are a result of my conversations with the people who were near these actual events,” she said. “Many of the incidents I depict only exist in the memory of those who experienced them and have no pictorial existence. In many cases, if visual records did exist, they have been confiscated by the Iranian authorities in raids of homes. My depictions are often the first time these events have taken visual form. I record the details of this history. For example: details of the shoes, clothes, artifacts, and environments seen in my paintings are very close to those that were there in the event.”
Safajoo and her immediate and extended family have experienced this oppression. “I remember the day in the early morning when government security forces burst into my home, ransacked it, and took my father to prison; my younger sister was crying on her way to school,” the artist said. “Later, my sister was denied access to university, and because of her quest to understand why, was then placed in solitary confinement.”
In her work, she said, she shows “the beautiful aspects of those who have been persecuted by highlighting their steadfastness, powerful spirit, and love for humanity.”
Safajoo studied business administration in Iran before moving to the United States, where she earned her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Massachusetts. She has exhibited her work at venues including Harvard University and the Massachusetts State House, and presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Her remarks at the AJC Boston Diplomats Seder in 2016 were adapted by the Boston Herald into an article. Her work has recently been featured by IranWire, Tavaana, PersianBMS, Radio Farda, Nashraasoo, and the BBC.