Shahrbanoo Hamzeh came to the United States from Iran in 2018 to pursue a M.F.A in studio art at Illinois State University. Throughout her life in Iran, she observed the lives of women, displacement, and other concepts. Her goal in her art is to bring awareness to these ideas.

Painting by Shahrbanoo Haamzeh. Woman in cultural clothing standing beneath a clothesline of colorful sheets.
Shahrbanoo Hamzeh, Women, Dance, Music #5, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. 39 x 59 inches.
Used with permission of the artist

In her own words: “I am an artist and believe art has a special role in protecting human rights by bringing attention and awareness. In my view, the human body, domestic space, and the concept of homeland evoke home on three different levels. Conceptualizing these layers of ‘home,’ both visually and textually, helps us to understand the suffering that displacement imposes on people.”

Through her art, Hamzeh is bringing awareness to the inequality and displacement issues that are current contentions in her home country of Iran.

In an interview with her, she talked about how her life experience led her to where she is now.

“Living in diaspora also helped me to understand the displacement I was enduring my whole life, especially as a female artist living under the dictatorship of the Ayatollahs.”

“Uncomfortable and unsettled” are the words Hamzeh used to described how audience members might feel when viewing her art. The controversial concepts her art is based on is why the audience members might feel such discomfort. She wants to bring awareness to the hardships and struggles of human rights violations, for women specifically.

This is why she felt attracted to the Illinois State University Three Minute Thesis Competition this past February. The Three Minute Thesis Competition is a challenge for Ph.D. and master’s students to describe their research and its significance in three minutes.

Hamzeh explains why this event was so important to her, “Part of my practice is bringing attention and awareness about human rights violations in Iran, especially towards women. I felt it was a good platform to talk about the pain we are enduring as a nation. The night we presented our projects almost 200 people were on the Zoom meeting, many of them would never come across my research if I were not there.”

In addition to being a finalist for the 2021 Three Minute Thesis Competition, Hamzeh was also selected as a finalist in the 2021 Image of Research Exhibit for her research for her thesis Welcoming in the Front Door.

The Image of Research competition asks Illinois State University students to create or capture one static image of their research and to write a brief narrative explaining how the image relates to their research. This was Hamzeh’s response when asked to select a single image that relates to her research:

Painting by Shahrbanoo Hamzeh. Abstract piece reflecting her ideas for the Image of Research Competition.
Shahrbanoo Hamzeh, Welcoming in the front door #10, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 23 1/2 x 26.
2021 Image of Research finalist.
Used with permission of the artist.

“I study home, displacement from it, and suffering within or outside of it. I believe our bodies, our domestic spaces, and our homelands are three parallel homes on different levels. Definitions of home are related to definitions of Us versus Others, and these definitions and their relationship to borders and boundaries can be problematic. Borders and the lines we draw around ourselves and others allow authorities to enforce unjust, inhumane, or brutal laws in the absence of public awareness. This is the case with the current regime of my country, Iran. In my paintings, I use imagery of metal doors to talk about what is going on behind the doors and give voice to ongoing brutality towards women in Iran, where femicide is allowed by law in many situations. My color pallet suggests both durability of cold and rusty metal doors and the vulnerability of a body, with lacerations referring to traumas. I think art can bring attention and awareness to this injustice and bring hope for change.”

Painting by Shahrbanoo Hamzeh. Abstract piece that reflects the common type of door in Iran.
Shahrbanoo Hamzeh. Welcoming in the front door #1, 2019.
Acrylic and embedded collage on canvas. 58 x 44.
Used with permission of the artist.

If those two competions were not enough, Shahrbanoo Hamzeh is also a two-time Friends of the Arts grant recipient for her two exhibitions this spring, the M.F.A Exhibition and Delightful Scars. In her grant description, Hamzeh describes the scope of her research for the M.F.A Exhibition as the following:

“For her 2021 M.F.A. exhibition, Shahrbanoo plans to use in a series of paintings the imagery of a type of door common in Iran when she was a child to explore how family relationships are different inside a house and outside of it. In a broader sense, her art involves themes of diaspora and feminism informed by her experiences growing up in a theocratic society with laws that discriminate against women. As an established studio artist, she brings a maturity to the academic environment that sets a positive example to the undergraduates that she mentors in her role as a grad assistant.”

Sharhbanoo Hamzeh is one of the many students in the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts who use their passion to express themselves and speak out about inequality. Her experiences in life have brought her here to Illinois State University where we can listen to her story as she creates awareness across the college, University, and community through her passion.