BOOK REVIEWS - MY BLUE CANVAS
"Your poetry and painting reveal the special quality of not abandoning Iranian and Persian-speaking peoples in the midst of perplexing discussions of tradition and modernity, or tradition versus modernity. Instead, they point to ways of becoming thoroughly modern while remaining uniquely anchored in the native traditions of verbal and visual arts. As such, the appeal of your work – and your book – is distinct, and singular, and immensely uplifting."
Professor of Persian Language, Literature and Culture
Founding Director of the Roshan Center of Persian Studies, University of Maryland
"My Blue Canvas continues a career-long artistic engagement with matters of belonging, displacement and loss. The memories and sensations of home as an arcadian and corporeal presence and what this might mean to a reluctant émigré whose bearings of national identity have forcibly shifted, are heartbreakingly intertwined with the loss of a son and are deeply inscribed at the book’s core.
Born in Tehran, Pari Azarm Motamedi left the turbulent politics of Iran for Canada in 1984 with her husband, two small sons and a laden and reluctant heart. Having to abandon, mid-stride, a burgeoning career in architecture, Motamedi turned to the meditative allures of painting and later, metal work, to reconcile her expatriation and thereupon forged her artistic repute.
My Blue Canvas is both an ongoing conversation with poetry as an anchor to cultural heritage and a generous and raw invitation from the artist into the depths of creative inspiration. Written in venerable free verse with an intent to honour and preserve a history for past and future generations, the poetry measures both the finest and darkest memories of Motamedi’s life. It is as though we walk through the white-walled gallery with the exhibiting artist herself, and at each corner’s turn, are gifted another piece of her very soul.
Invoking vivid imagery of a childhood spent in the affluent fold of an academic and artistic family, Motamedi taps our senses, procuring the ‘brown wooden bookshelves / almost up to the ceiling’ of her father’s library, walled gardens of turquoise-tiled pools and blossoming fruit trees, ‘I can smell the rose / the honeysuckle and the lilac / see the flowering pomegranate trees and the ripe pomegranates / the plum trees in blossom / the leafless persimmon trees heavy with fruit.’ and forms a delightful concomitant portrait of the home life of a young Iranian girl.
Interwoven in the bucolic is loss of a country, ‘We finally left / in the middle of a pointless war / too afraid to stay / too afraid to protest’, and of kin. ‘Confused and guilt-ridden / for being alive / broken and lost’, Motamedi gently guides us out from under her crushing grief. She writes,
The winter festival Shab-e-Yalda was celebrated
around Bibi joon’s korsi
on the longest and darkest night of the year
occurring on the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice.
Memories of family gatherings on those nights
bring back feelings of warmth and excitement
sweet and sour pomegranates
dried nuts and fruits
listening to winter stories
readings of Hafez poetry
games and laughter until midnight
and going to bed with the promise of longer days and shorter night.
Indeed, My Blue Canvas is an ode to culture and tradition, family and love and the resultant shortening of the night. Motamedi’s art, both incepted and revealed through poetry, is the finest mimicry of the lifecycle through which she struggles with such poise so as to render this reader awed by her grace."
Writer and Poet October, 2016 Vancouver, Canada
"My Blue Canvas, by Pari Azarm Motamedi, is a book of reflection, a book of praise and appreciation of Persian art and literature; and a narrative of life in an Iran that now exists only in our memories. Precious memories for many Iranians, especially those who left after the Iranian revolution, recollections that we still try to keep alive.
Azarm Motamedi beautifully portrays the landscape of cherished experiences and memories for many of us, especially for the relatively well-off Iranians of those bygone days. Reminiscence of childhood memories, together with her perceptions about nature, poetry and literature, art and architecture, acquaint us with the inner world of the writer thus opening up vistas for understanding her paintings.
In one of the opening passages, the writer touches upon our innermost emotional space of selfhood and identity by asking the fundamental question: “Where do I belong?”. A question that still, after thirty some years, remains relevant for many Iranian immigrants. The question, long lasting and perhaps unanswerable, is contemplated and dealt with in beautiful poetic language.
In the first part of the book, through the narration of childhood memories we hear of her admiration and gratitude for the simple beauty of life while in the second part we witness and appreciate how images and experiences conveyed in words can inspire and affect the creation of the visual image. The paintings, inspired by Persian poetry offer the reader/viewer an impression of the abstract artistic thought process engaged in the interweaving of word and image, and finally expressed in the visual language of form and colour.
With a simple, yet powerful language, Azarm Motamedi talks of her family and takes us into her childhood home, where love, like an ocean embraces and sustains her. In sharing her experience of losing a child she allows us to witness the unforgettable internal dialogue she is forced to have, a dialogue that ultimately helps her to come to an acceptance and surrender. In contemplating the boundless eternity of existence and the beauty and exuberance of nature she is able to make peace with her wounded and pained self and to continue living. This is where her art plays an important role in bringing her back to life. The power and beauty of this internal dialogue is that she does not engage in the usual self-pity of mourning, nor does she despise or disdain life, but instead poses the perennial, timeless question contemplating the meaning of life.
On the other hand the paintings, narrate another story, revealing the talents of a gifted artist who perceives the spirit of a poem and expresses her perceptions in the visual language of the painting. Even if a viewer who, like me, is not so conversant in the language of visual art, she/he is enriched by the experience and is moved by the power and beauty of these works.
In some of the passages, the text becomes repetitive and this is a detriment to the pleasant and poetic language of the book. Also, sometimes, the narration of childhood memories becomes very personal, taking away from the universal appeal of the writing. This may have been the aim of the writer, since she states that the book was written for her grandchildren. In my view, the audience for the book can be the children and grandchildren of Iranian immigrants all over the world.
With over two hundred images, printed on high quality paper, elegant graphic design and superior printing and production the book is exquisite but heavy in weight making it difficult to carry around and transport. I would have liked to keep it close to me, in my carry bag, over many days and hours but the weight prevented me from this.
I congratulate Pari Azarm Motamedi and wish her much success."
Ruhangiz Sharifian is an award-winning Iranian writer and translator living in London. Her books have received much success in Iran as well as Europe, North America and Canada and have been translated to English and German.