Negin Dastgheib : AP Cafe, Williamsburg : New York, USA
Negin Dastgheib’s parents were present for one of the biggest uprisings in modern times when the people of Iran staged a revolution to overthrow Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1979, making way for the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran under Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. For Negin’s family and millions alike, it charged an impetus to leave Iran and seek a new life abroad, and it would be after deciding on New Zealand as their new home that Negin would be born. With her family now scattered across the globe, she discovered a need to try and connect with her heritage and recreate some of the fond memories her parents had of their childhood in Iran, using everyday mementos as inspiration for her art.
“I started painting from old family photographs of my parents when they were younger in Iran, because when they talk about when they were growing up they talk about it like it was such a nice time and everything was free. There was no dictatorship; you didn’t have to cover up or anything. It was weird because I became nostalgic for their youth, because it was a time when everything was together and, as it’s such an amazing country, I can imagine it would have been so great back then. So I was painting from these photographs I would find in my house as a way to get closer to those memories and understand them a bit better”
Negin was also trying to find her identity as a child of Iranian heritage living in New Zealand, adapting and improvising between her family’s culture and birth country’s traditions. Her creative outlet served as a conduit to explore this disconnect and facilitate her own understanding of this circumstance.
“When you’re growing up with a different culture but you’re in a different country, you have a weird identity issue where you don’t quite fit in with either of them. For a long time I didn’t really want to associate with being Iranian because I didn’t feel like I was; then I tried to be a New Zealander but I was still a bit different, so I think it was really helpful for me as a way to figure it out. So I was doing that for a few years, just painting from those photographs; colourful images of people…having picnics…really nice moments”
Her passion for understanding her heritage and parent’s history blended with her struggle to find her own footing, setting a course for further studies in the arts to explore her passion for the medium and endeavour to understand the viability of a career in painting. And after some initial trepidation, she learned soon enough that her instincts were correct.
“It’s really something that is addictive; the more you do it the more you need it in your life. I never thought I would want to be an artist, even when I started off at university…I was by myself all the time and didn’t really see the point. And then you start doing it… It’s a very human act, there’s something about it that’s really special”
While studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Negin hatched a plan to live as an artist in Brooklyn, NYC. To spend a year of her life immersed in the cultural melting pot, exploring her passion and creating new works with other like-minded artists. After arriving in late 2014 the plan to get straight to work was in motion, however the tempting realities that go hand in hand with exploring the plethora of New York culture to find inspiration in the seemingly endless stimuli created some unexpected challenges.
“There’s just so much here it’s just too much…you’re over saturated with things…activities…you have constant FOMO because there’s 10 things on in one night that you want to go to! So I think that was very tiring and I wasn’t very used to that pace. Over winter, trying to keep up, you can just burn yourself out. And I got to January/February and had to slow things down a little bit; it’s just too much. You have to focus in on what you want to do, I mean I came here to make work and not try and do 100 different things”
But the city and its people would provide the expected inspiration she was seeking, and after the move to her Williamsburg studio she experimented with various techniques and subjects to explore her work, and connected with the passion and dedication of the creative sub-culture the Brooklyn borough plays home to.
“I think I’ve definitely made the most of it, I started painting as soon as I got here. People that are here really want to be here so they work really hard and the city really values artists, so it’s been really nice to be in that kind of environment; to meet so many other artists who are working hard…it’s really motivating, seeing so much all the time. It’s really useful”
As her time in NYC comes to an end and the current chapter of her artistic exploration draws to a close, the plan is to travel a little more before heading back to New Zealand. With a newly appreciated understanding of the realities of the real-world artist existence, she’s looking to a long-time passion to marry the fundamentals of life while also keeping her engaged and motivated.
“I’m going to study art-therapy back in Auckland. Ever since I learned about it, I think it was the last year of primary school, I’ve thought this is what I want to do. Because I was always interested in social work but I liked art, so this is a perfect in-between. I’d like to get to a point where I could do that half the week then paint the rest of the time; something I’m passionate about that I can integrate. I did some music therapy (with) a group called Starjam back in New Zealand; music workshops with kids with disabilities. They provide these workshops, then put them out into the public as a way to remove the stigma around kids with disabilities; you could really see everyone loving it and I think art is a really good tool”
Now with a first-hand appreciation of the difficult realities of being a full-time artist in a capitalist environment, it seems the New York experience has encouraged a wonderful direction to blend both needs. The decision to spend time with like-minded artists in the creative capital of the world was clearly the right one, and has spawned a clear thinking with which to head back to New Zealand and engage with. And it seems that from the simple and beautiful process of painting her parents from photographs as an effort to connect and gain some valuable perspective that, somewhere along the way, she’s done exactly that for herself.