Hoda Kashiha

I create playful paintings, which bounce between real life and one that I imagine. Capturing awkward and dark humor moments, which happen at a glance, are the main theme in my work.

Body plays an important role in my work because I observe the world and understand my desires and identity through it. Illustrating the body not only projects my personal life but also the external world that is made of current political affair and the society. I am Interested in male-female interaction. There is a blurred line between traditional definitions of man versus woman which result in shifting of Masculinity and femininity between man and woman and vagueness of dominant roles that each character takes on.

I am fascinated by creating art without any filter about whatever crosses my mind. My paintings depicted hostile, but tempered by humor, a common strategy used by people of my country to survive the current social and political system. For this reason, I incorporate pop culture, emojis and comic cartoons, mixed with masterpieces taken from art history to create unique images.

Hoda in her studio.

Hoda in her studio.

Interview with Hoda Kashiha

Questions by Beatrice Helman

Hi Hoda! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to both painting and creating in general? Are there any specific experiences that stand out as highly influential in your path to a career as a painter?
I was born in Tehran, Iran. I grew up painting and never stopped ever since. But like other kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to pursue as a career. when I was 14, I participated in a program at the “Institute for intellectual development of children and young adults”, which is a great and old art and cultural organization in my country. I took painting and drawing courses in summer. I had a teacher who has had a lasting influence in my professional life. Her ideas and thoughts about drawing are still bold in my mind. During my training with her, I discovered visual art as something beyond a beautiful image that allows me to break the rules and to be creative continuously. It was after taking that course that I decided to pursue art as my profession. The memories of that summer made a permanent mark in my mind and it excites me whenever I think about it.

I’m really love the painting .004, in which color plays such an important role. Can you talk about that work specifically and what the process of creating it was like?
There is a fine line between some opposite feelings in this painting, such as power and defeat, love and hate, violence and peace. Transparency of colors helps viewers to go through the personality of the characters by seeing deferent layers of painting. As a result, I can create depth and space in my works while using flat shapes. Furthermore, the relationship between man and woman and the power and defeat that constantly shift between them, are among the concepts in my paintings.

What is your relationship to color in your work? Color seems so essential to these pieces. How do you make decisions about color and what function do you find that color serves in your work? Are you drawn to color in your daily life, outside of the studio?
I use sharp colors in my works because I believe that they have a loud voice, which is in line with the concepts I am trying to convey. I find sharp colors attractive and at the same time repelling to create chaos and sudden moments. Similarly, in my personal life, I am usually drawn to sharp colors, especially in fabrics and cloth.  

Can you talk a little bit about humor and the presence of it in your work?
I paint whatever crosses my mind, things that make me laugh or feel deep sorrow. To me, painting is not an end in itself; it rather gives me a chance to express my moods and thoughts that come to my head and vanish, like clouds. Humor allows the audience to have intimacy with characters and come along with artist’s thoughts and idea. My paintings, however, depict bitter concepts that are tempered by humor, a common coping mechanism used by people of my country to survive the current social and political situations.

You have said that “Body plays an important role in my work because I observe the world and understand my desires and identity through it.” Can you talk a little bit more about that? Does illustrating your body serve a particular function for you?
I once asked myself what would happen if, one day, I couldn’t afford to buy my art materials? what is the best replacement for me to create art?! My answer was “performance”. I have been doing yoga for almost 4 years. It has increased my understanding of my own body and I would love to reflect it on my works. I emphasize on body in my work because I believe it can be blended with surroundings while it is separate and independent from it.  It can project the politics and society and vice versa. I am a figurative painter, but if someday my paintings were to shift toward abstract art, it would happen through the abstraction of the bodies in my work.

Can you talk about this in relation to the fragmented body and high heels in the painting, .002? I love the humor in this piece but also feel that it deals with some larger and somewhat darker ideas. Is this true?
In some of my works, I try to highlight the female gender as the main subject, and not an object that represents the ego of its creator. This is the reason that I like to use fragmented body moves between femininity and masculinity. 

As you may know, during the past year Iran has been experiencing one of its worst economic, social and political situation in its history. The impacts of the situation are so tangible in the society and personal lives of all Iranian, including myself. As you noticed, this has been reflected in my work and it has made my painting darker than ever. In this specific painting, I used Judith and Holofernes as a reference to portray a furious respond to this crazy situation and the crazy men who destroy the world.  

I also wanted to touch on the different shapes in your work. Are they consciously formed?  Are you drawn to certain shapes for distinct reasons? Do they serve a function—whether it be aesthetically or contributing to the larger message of the work?
I love to make architectural space by studying the analytic cubism, German expressionism as well as eastern miniature paintings, and traditional Japanese woodprints. By analyzing objects and reassembling them in an abstract shape, I intend to destroy the linear narration and create dynamic art works, which also express the progression of time. This technique also allows me to create open forms that continuously convert from one form to another.

How does personal narrative feature into your work—do you find yourself exploring your own life through your art?
Although I am influenced by political and social affairs, I prefer to filter them through my personal narration and using humor. This gives me the opportunity to express myself as an artist and not as a victim who complains about the hard times. Moreover, the audience get the chance to come along with small moments I capture in my paintings, without being forced to think my way. 

You have also said that “There is a blurred line between traditional definitions of man versus woman which result in shifting of masculinity and femininity between man and woman and the vagueness of dominant roles that each character takes on.” What piqued your interest in this inquiry and can you expand upon how you explore this in your work?
My paintings do not conform with the gender norms. The meaning of male and female, and their roles and behaviors are a fluid concept that constantly shift between the characters in my paintings.

Being raised in a country where the traditional definition of woman and man is dominant, has probably large impact in shaping my perspectives.

However, I believe that the social construction of gender is not location-specific and humans all over the world are characterized by man and woman labels. This is in contrast with nature: we do not have black and white color in nature, we have spectrum of gray between these two colors!

I read that you use cartoons and images from pop culture, as well as emojis. How do you incorporate these into your work and what function do they serve?
We are surrounded with these images all the time. These are part of our digital life. While not real, it has become an integral part of a world we live in. So, I believe we all live between real life and virtual life that is becoming more and more difficult to be differentiated from each other.

Do you find that your paintings often deal with the real world, imaginary worlds, or both?
Both. I usually love to walk between these two worlds.

How do you interact with the figures that appear in your work—is it the same figure or different figures? Are they entirely fictional?

They are not fictional and based in reality. I pay attention to the action and reaction of people in daily life. I then further develop them with my imagination and project them in my paintings. Sometimes I dance before I start paintings. The ideas of different poses for my characters occur to me while moving my body.

  In what ways have you noticed your work evolve over time, or perhaps how has your relationship to it changed?
I don’t like to repeat myself. In recent years, I have tried to break my routines in painting and push myself further as well as trying to articulate my ideas in my paintings. If I couldn’t take the risk and explore something that I am afraid of, I would prefer to quit painting and do another job.

My paintings have evolved technically and conceptually. The colors getting sharper and brighter, the structure of my paintings has been changed and humor is more than ever. I have tried to make a link between technique and concept. For example, I recently removed the brush stroke by using air brush and making flat shapes. This allows me to avoid gestural painting that I do not like because I find it pretentious. 

Are there any recurring themes that you keep coming back to? Any colors or moods? On the other hand, are there any concepts that you’re excited to explore and haven’t yet?
Capturing awkward and dark humor moments, which happen at a glance, are the main themes always running through my work. In all of my series, characters experience temporary and opposing feelings such as femininity and masculinity, love and hatred, violence and peace, power and defeat and life and death. The meaning continuously shifts and it never gets fixed.  

While maintaining these main themes in my work, I am planning to move toward more and more abstract paintings. Also, I am excited to explore new materials, expanding my knowledge about them and use them in my work in order to extend my visual language.

What’s a typical day like for you? Are you a person of routine, and if so what is it like?
I go to my studio every weekday. I wake up in the morning, practice yoga, have breakfast, go to my studio and start my studio practice with seeing pictures and drawing and then start painting.  I usually go back home around 7, 8 pm. Cooking dinner with my boyfriend is one of the best part of my routine life.  

Do you look to other artists for inspiration? Or do you find that your creative process is renewed by looking outside of the art world? Or both?

Who are some artists that have influenced your work, or even inspired you to turn in a new direction
There is a list of contemporary artists which is too long to name all of them here. I have been recently drawn to seeing traditional Japanese prints, eastern miniature and medieval paintings, cubism and futurism, Russian avant-garde, and 19th century French caricatures.

What are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching?
It depends on my mood. I read a lot and always love to explore new music, but I don’t follow any specific genre. I just have found out that my paintings resonate with experimental jazz music. I cannot explain what the connections are, but it makes me listen to it while painting. Also in the past several months, I have been becoming more curious about Iranian history specially Iran revolution in 1979. Therefore, I have started reading about this topic.

What do you do when you need a break and have to let off steam?
It depends on my mood, sometimes I look for new recipe for cooking, sometimes I watch short documentaries, or I even watch stupid TV shows. These things let my thoughts fly up. To be honest, when I am so sad, angry or confused about my painting I prefer to take a nap, it helps me to turn off my brain for a while!

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio space, and how you like to get work done? What are some of the things that are important to you in your day-to-day process of being in the studio? For example, can you work among chaos or do you need to have everything in its place?
When I arrive at my studio, sometimes I directly head towards painting and sometimes I start seeing images on the internet. These images can be anything; anything can inspire me.  I draw and make collage to develop my ideas as well.

Overall, I am an unorganized person and I don’t have any specific rule in my studio. I can work in a chaos. My only rule is to work every day even if I am not in a good mood. 

Is there anything that really sets the mood in your studio?
Music, and taking care of my plants.

What are some of your other great loves outside of art?
Swimming, because I love the feeling of melting in water. Cooking, which is a great meditation for me. Traveling and getting lost in a new city.

What is your personal relationship to social media? Do you find that it supports your work, and your growth, or that it’s dangerous to your creative process? Do you use it solely personally or for professional reasons as well?
Social media is part of our life and we cannot escape from it or ignore it.  Personally, it has a great influence on my career, it helps me to get to know more artists and galleries and become familiar with their thoughts. It gives me the feeling that I can link with other artists despite being far from each other in the real world.

Are there any accounts you follow that you love?
Many accounts that post funny and awkward videos, or post photos of history or fashion history, and of course, accounts which share art work from all around the world.

Do you turn off your phone off while you work?
No, when I am painting I don’t care about my cell phone so there is no need to turn it off.

Is there any advice from the past that really resonated with you?
Being patient and trust myself.

Do you have any projects, shows or residencies coming up?
My solo show took place one month ago at Etemad gallery in Tehran, Iran. I am currently participating in a group exhibition at Balicehertling in Paris. I also got accepted in trestle  Residency for July 2018 in NYC but I couldn’t manage to go yet because of my schedule.

As for the long-term plan, I am exploring different themes, materials, and techniques for planning and creating my next series of painting.

Thanks so much for talking with us! 

To find out more about Hoda and her work, check out her instagram.