PODCAST: Gallery Girl Meets Hana Shahnavaz

On this episode of the Gallery Girl podcast my guest is Hana Shahnavaz, a British-Iranian painter inspired by Persian art, who makes paint from the earth, minerals plants and gold, celebrating the natural world.

Galloping by Hana Shahnavaz

Hana came into the visual arts through music and a love of Persian culture. Being half-Iranian, she had been visiting Iran since childhood. “It’s just a country surrounded by beauty. All the handicrafts are very much alive in everyday life”, she says, “It’s full of beauty.” Her first degree was in Persian Studies at London’s School Of Oriental and African Studies, which encompassed poetry, literature, history and music. “The literature stole my heart…Persian stories are so visual the way they describe them.” After graduation she spent six years in Iran, where she accidentally slipped into a painting class and fell in love with painting. “I was first interested in the flower and bird tradition, which are huge paintings on palace walls”, she explains, “It’s all about the nightingale and rose type thing.” 

The Sky Horse by Hana Shahnavaz

It wasn’t until she left Iran, that she actually learnt about Persian miniatures, as well as finding her love for making paints. She enrolled in a masters degree at London’s Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. “Paint making stole my heart”, she says, “Working with the Earth, I didn’t know colours like that existed. It was such an awakening.”  She also explains that by making her own paint, she is able to have much more control over her painting, and has a huge interest in finding her own pigments. Hana even travelled to Iran to make paint. “I started foraging and collecting from the Earth, and not just always from the pigments that we’ve always been told are the norms to paint with”, she says. 

Hana pigment collecting

Looking at Hana’s work you’ll notice how intricate it is, and because of that it can take years to produce. “I dedicate one to two years of my life to the big ones”, she explains, “They’re always the hard ones to let go of.” And for the last four years, she’s been dedicating her work to the Persian love story of Khosrow and Shirin, with a focus on the horse aspect, with horses being extra special to Hana. “What they symbolise are a pure wildness and freedom”, she says, “When I’m riding a horse everything disappears. Everything filters away and you’re living in that true authentic moment. When you’re on a horse the horses legs are taking you across the land…you’ve got a pure connection to the ground at the same time your head is in the sky.” 

Hana working with pigments

At the time of recording, the UK coronavirus lockdown has just lifted and Hana says that this period allowed her to connect more to the Earth, as well as taking a break from social media. “There’s a point where it becomes all too much”, she explains, “And you don’t realise but you change the way you might love to do things because of outside influences.” Hana also used this time to start working on a new collection of paintings. 

Hana working with pigments

Hana is also passionate about her art helping people, which has prompted collaboration with charities. For every collection of paintings she sets aside pigments in bottles, forming a work called Earth For Earth, with the proceeds from the sale going to charity. And in the future she will be working with more charities. “I really want my art to be about healing and oneness and reconnecting”, she says.

Shabdiz by Hana Shahnavaz

“What I’m trying to say with all my art is that I do want to explore the relationship between sky and Earth and it’s all to do with reconnecting”, says Hana, “I need my art to have something practical to it that’s relative to us. I need it to be positive and to uplift people.” 

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She is the founder of Gallery Girl - a London-based curatorial platform and website dedicated to modern and contemporary art from across the globe. Her work is primarily focused on supporting emerging female artists from the Middle East and the Caucasus. She has written for Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, Suitcase and Vice Arabia among other publications. Her exhibitions in London and Armenia have been featured in Vogue Arabia, The Art Newspaper, The Art Gorgeous and numerous other news outlets. Gallery Girl has also spoken in the UK, UAE and Belgium about the contemporary art scene in the MENA region, and is planning further events in London and Amman.

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