Cultural collaboration: Migrant voices at the heart of QVMAG

Despite its clean, square lines, Windows is hung on the wall at an angle. And not a predictable 45-degree angle, either, but a slightly shallower slant, which draws attention to itself by its seeming arbitrariness.

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Windows, Mehrangiz Modarres Tabatabaei, Azita Rezaei Chalehzeini, Maryam Haidari, Dina Saffar Alkhalili, Zahra (Marjan) Godazgar, 2021 (detail). Image: Angela Casey

The work was produced by a collaboration between a group of Launceston women of Middle Eastern descent. And project leader, Iranian-born Mehrangiz Modarres Tabatabaei says that slightly distracting angle serves a very important purpose.

“As a migrant, over the course of 28 years I have learned that every day you spend living in a new country is a day that you learn something new about where you live,” she says.

“And you never know everything about your new country, and a part of you always remains somewhere else, and you might never feel fully settled. You always remain connected to the place where you were born, no matter how physically and mentally present you might be in your new home, emotionally and culturally you still feel a little unsettled.”

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Windows artists L to R: Azita Rezaei Chalehzeini, Dina Saffar Alkhalili, Maryam Haidari, Zahra (Marjan) Godazgar, Mehrangiz Modarres Tabatabaei. Image: Jacob Collings

Mehrangiz selected a group of women of similar backgrounds to herself to work on the project, which was commissioned by QVMAG especially for the new permanent exhibition in the former Colonial and Federation Galleries, which explores the history and cultural identity of Launceston.

But while she is an established creative visual artist and community arts practitioner, the other four women were not, and one of them confessed she had never even touched a paintbrush before. And this was also an important part of the piece’s key themes around inclusivity, learning and adapting.

The intricate patterns are known as illumination or “tazhib”, a classical artform found in rugs and books, and the artwork features quotes from Persian and Arabic scripts about harmonious relationships between nature and humans, a reflection of the artists’ process of understanding their new surroundings.

Across the work the artists have made the subtle substitution of the traditional floral motifs of the tazhib with native Tasmanian flowers to integrate a feeling of home.

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Windows studio assistant Maryam Haidari migrated to Launceston from Kabul, Afghanistan. Image: Jacob Collings

The panels were created collaboratively, with Mehrangiz mapping out the final design that was agreed on, and the bulk of the detail being hand-painted by Maryam Heidari (Kabul, Afghanistan), Azita Rezaei Chalehzeini (Esfahan, Iran), Marjam Godazgar (Rasht, Iran) and Dina Saffar Alkhalili (Baghdad, Iraq).

Mehrangiz says the artwork aimed to empower women who were passionate about art and design but had never had the chance to directly engage in it. The title, Windows, refers to the twofold function of a window: allowing someone to see out into the wider world, and allowing others to take a glimpse into the life of someone else.

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Windows studio assistant Dina Saffar Alkhalili migrated to Launceston from Baghdad, Iraq. Image: Jacob Collings

Mehrangiz has lived in 35 countries throughout East Asia, Africa, Europe and South America in the past 28 years, before arriving in Tasmania and her work draws upon those cultural and artistic elements she has encountered and absorbed through her life and travels.

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Windows artist and community project leader Mehrangiz Modarres Tabatabaei migrated to Launceston from Tehran, Iran. Image: Jacob Collings  

“All I’m doing is looking for beauty around the world. It doesn’t matter where you come from or who did it, it is all beauty that comes from within the human who created it. Painting, music, dance, they are all ways we express ourselves and respect ourselves and each other.”

This project was sponsored by the City of Launceston My Place My Future Project