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Mariam Tafsiri

Mariam Tafsiri

Meet economist and illustrator from London, Mariam Tafsiri.

 

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a British-Iranian woman from London, UK – my creative work focuses on illustrations inspired by Qajar art, Persian miniature paintings, and Islamic design. My interest in Qajar art developed at an early age, taking inspiration from the unibrowed women who present a very different concept of beauty to that regularly portrayed in the West. I was born and brought up in London and have lived here my whole life. A lot of my family, however, are based in Iran and my parents still have a very strong connection to their culture. As a result, I was brought up in a very Iranian household, which was definitely great news in terms of the food we ate. Whilst I love doing my illustrations, I actually have a full-time job as an economist, which is about as far from art as you can get!

 

Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

Without a shadow of a doubt, London is my favourite place in the world. What makes it so unique is not only its vast diversity but how it actively celebrates it. When you grow up in an environment where all your friends are also second or third-generation immigrants, you end up feeling a sense of belonging and unity through your diversity. I know for some people, London can be too big, too crowded, too noisy but as a life-long city girl, I love that aspect of it. There’s just so much on offer here in terms of culture, entertainment, and food that I always miss the bustle when I go away from London for a bit.

 

My interest in Qajar art developed at an early age, taking inspiration from the unibrowed women who present a very different concept of beauty to that regularly portrayed in the West.

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

I would say the best thing is its diversity – you feel as if you have access to the world on your doorstep. There are always events and exhibitions on across the city and I feel like I’m always exploring and learning something new. The worst thing is probably commuting – we’re lucky to have a pretty good public transport system but the Tube can get pretty packed…

 

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Inspiring, rewarding, diverse

 

How did you start your career in art?

I’ve always been at my happiest when drawing, particularly people and portraits. It was something I did so much as a child but I noticed that in recent years I wasn’t making as much time for it as I would’ve liked. So, about a year ago I decided to start an Instagram account to post my drawings as a way to encourage myself to keep it up. It also encouraged me to be a bit more experimental and to try new things. My drawings had always been realistic portraits which would take me hours to do but moving towards illustration has allowed me to draw more often and more quickly in a variety of styles. I work full time in another job so I just love being able to have something to channel my creativity.

 

I’ve always been at my happiest when drawing, particularly people and portraits. It was something I did so much as a child but I noticed that in recent years I wasn’t making as much time for it as I would’ve liked. So, about a year ago I decided to start an Instagram account to post my drawings as a way to encourage myself to keep it up.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

My illustration work is not my full-time job but everyone around me was very supportive of me giving the whole thing a go as they know how much I’ve loved art since I was a kid. Keeping up with the pace of Instagram can take time and effort so I appreciate when people put up with me drawing rather than doing something else!

 

What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

I’ve really been focusing on experimenting with styles and techniques over the past year so I’d love to finally find “my style”. Once that settles down I’ll be able to focus more on the attention and detail that goes into my work. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get more commissions as I’m really excited by the creative thinking that comes with having to respond to a brief.

 

I’ve really been focusing on experimenting with styles and techniques over the past year so I’d love to finally find “my style”. Once that settles down I’ll be able to focus more on the attention and detail that goes into my work.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

I can’t really think of a particular individual but I would love to collaborate on a book of Persian poetry where I could provide the illustrations. Poetry gives that initial source of inspiration while leaving enough room for me to have my own creative take on it.

 

How would you describe the women around you?

The most important women in my life are my mum and my best friends from school. I’d describe my mum as a very caring and generous woman – she gives a lot of her time to helping others and she’s shaped who I am today. In terms of my school friends, we went to an all-girls school and I think that really encouraged and empowered us as women so we’re very supportive and close to each other.

 

I’ve found Instagram has been a wonderful way for me to discover other female artists, in particular, middle eastern artists whose work I can really relate to. Their work really resonated with me and encouraged me to be a part of this community.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

Popular culture is often dominated by male creatives so I wasn’t really exposed to female artists very much growing up. I’ve found Instagram has been a wonderful way for me to discover other female artists, in particular, middle eastern artists whose work I can really relate to. Their work really resonated with me and encouraged me to be a part of this community.

 

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

There are always challenges of being a woman, in any industry. In my full-time job as an economist, I’m in a very male-dominated environment and I’m very aware of the impact that has on me. My art, however, has allowed me to surround myself on Instagram in an inspiring community of women so I’m actually very thankful for that.

 

Recapture what you had as a child and just give it a go, even in your spare time like me.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

I would go beyond those who want to work in the field and would just say that everyone should make art, for work or for leisure. It’s a joy to be creative and, too often, individuals give up on it once they grow older because they think they’re not good enough. The process matters as much as the end product. Recapture what you had as a child and just give it a go, even in your spare time like me.

 

 

Photos courtesy of Mariam Tafsiri.

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