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Artist Connects with Iranian Roots

By Steven Dawson

Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi artwork

As We Waited We Were Longing For Spring’s Sun, Acrylic, gouache, and hand painted collage on Mylar, 78x60 in., 2011

Artists never decide to be an artist because of the money. The “starving artist” motif is an accurate, if overused, stereotype. However, some artists are lucky enough to find someone who shares their passion and can afford to fund that passion. 

Such is the case for Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi MFA ‘11. The decorated D.C.-area painter, who has returned to AU as a professional lecturer, found her patron recently. 

Ilchi immigrated to the United States from Iran at the age of 18 and found culture shock and isolation in her new environment. “The language barrier was very difficult,” Ilchi says, “but it drove me more towards visual arts, and that enabled me to express myself freely. Art made me feel understood! In retrospect, despite its difficulties and bitterness, being separated from my motherland made me more curious and aware of my cultural heritage.” 

Her work illustrates this connection with her native culture. Her previous body of work portrays surreal images of women with long, wild hair. This depiction, Ilchi says, is a reference to herself and her issues as an Iranian immigrant. 

“The use of disproportionately long hair is a statement on the notion of freedom in relation to the oppressive and mandated use of head coverings for women in Iran,” she explains. “These female figures are central to my work since they portray a narrative of defiance in a cultural confrontation with tradition. They evoke a sense of resilience and that is a true reflection of how many Iranian women fight the daily battles.” 

Since her graduation from AU, Ilchi has received the support of many local collectors. She recently met Blake Kimbrough, the man who would be her most recent patron and collector, when Contemporary Wing’s Lauren Gentile introduced him to her work. He immediately fell in love with her use of Islamic themes and her use of abstract colors. Kimbrough explains his attraction to Ilchi’s art: “Since my academic pursuits dealt with the Near East and I am a Baha’i, a religion that comes from Persia, I have always been fascinated with how contemporary artists of Persian heritage express themselves given the oppression they may feel and their government’s attitude towards Western modernity. Since typically what is appreciated and celebrated in the arts is the concept of innovation, how would Persians abroad or at home interpret or respond to the desire to innovate or sensationalize in a global market place? I find Ilchi’s approach nuanced and compelling.” 

Ilchi’s and Kimbrough’s first conversation revolved around a work that he later purchased. Ilchi saw right away that he had a deep understanding of her culture and her inspirations as an artist. 

“Even though this is a new friendship, because of our backgrounds, I have a sense that this relationship will continue to grow,” she muses. “We are already planning a studio visit in the near future to have a deeper dialogue about my work. My paintings are hybrids of the two cultures with a fusion of Eastern and Western visual languages. The result is a paradoxical sense of chaos and order, which I think is one of the reasons that draws Blake to my work.” 

Hedieh Ilchi is currently participating in a group show, Social Construction, which opened April 10 and runs through June 9 at the Arlington Arts Center. She will have a solo exhibit, A leaf from my rose garden, curated by Steven Matijcio, at the Southern Center for Contemporary art in Winston-Salem, NC. Later this summer, she will show at Scope Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland.

Ilchi has received multiple awards, including The Trawick Prize: Bethesda Contemporary Art Awards Semi-Finalist, The Bethesda Painting Awards Finalist, and The eighth annual Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize semifinalist. 

She will also participate in Nostalgia Structures at the Brentwood Arts Exchange, Brentwood, Maryland, in mid-July. For more information on Ilchi, and to see examples of her current work, visit her website.