Iranian-American alumna creates art to reflect heritage

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In the reflection of mirror shards scattered across the map of the Middle East, Sarah Madandar sees everything she left behind in Iran. 

This piece is one of many creations Madandar, an Iranian-American artist and UT alumna, has on display in her exhibit “Another Birth” at Courtyard Gallery until Sept. 10. Her work focuses on cultural and personal representations of her transition across the globe.

“I never had a specific talent growing up, but when I found art, I realized that was it,” Madandar said.

At a young age, Madandar’s father sent her to art camp in Tehran, which she said widened her perspective on life. After studying art in Iran, Madandar felt a sense of artistic freedom when she came to the U.S. because she was given many more opportunities.

This led to the formation of her current work, which, much like her, is a blend of U.S. and Iranian influences. Madandar said her uneasiness in both U.S. and Iranian societies led to her visibly fragmented work. 

“Another Birth” represents the melding of her personality and her environment, influenced by Persian rugs she remembers from her childhood and the formative impact they had on her. 

“You grow up on a carpet,” Madandar said. “It’s such a huge part of my aesthetic, I want the audience to see a piece of themselves in the carpet.” 

Her other artwork depicts something even closer to Madandar: her identity. Born after the revolution, Madandar struggled with her female identity in a growingly restrictive country. She listens to one of her biggest inspirations, female Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, to focus her ideas as she creates her pieces. To Madandar, Farrokhzad represents a defiance of the societal Iranian norms that often restrict women. Farrokhzad’s poem “Another Birth” served as the inspiration for the exhibit’s title.  

Some of her performance pieces are experimental and include a video of women, some in hijabs, standing naked in front of a camera, attempting to cover themselves. 

“I could experiment in performance pieces I never could have shown back home,” Madandar said. “My time at UT made me able to access more facilities and ideas like performance art. In Iran, you can’t paint naked bodies. Everything has to be more abstract.”

Sarah Canright, Madandar’s longtime mentor and studio art professor, said she saw the growth of Madandar’s work over the three years she spent with her. 

“What she ended up doing here was astonishing,” Canright said. “Her whole evolution here was pushing against the restriction she came from.” 

Madandar wants people who see her art not to look at it in terms of an Iranian artist or an American artist, but as reflection of the person she is. 

“My biggest influence in my art is my life, my experiences,” Madanadar said.