Speaking to Nazgol Ansarinia ahead of the opening of her current show, Lakes Drying, Tides Rising at Green Art Gallery in Dubai, we touch upon the relationship between the surface of Tehran and the currents beneath – the uneasy coexistence of old and new, of continuity and change – within her home city, a place that is now home again for her. Ansarinia, whose American-inflected English is by turns articulate, lyrical and precise, describes the difficulty of her decision to return to Iran in 2007, having left to study in London at the age of 17. “When you hold an Iranian passport, getting a visa is always a challenge,” she explains. “So, moving from the States back to Iran meant that I may get stuck or lose the opportunity of being in the States. But I was 23 and I had already lived abroad for seven years – I would say my adulthood had been shaped in the West.”
Ansarinia moved back to Tehran after having trained initially in London and San Francisco and later moving to New York for work. Asked about the decision to return to Iran, she acknowledges that it was a big decision but also a necessary one. “I was very close to my grandparents, but they were getting older and I just couldn’t think of not seeing them for so many years, you never knew what was going to happen,” she says. “So that was a very strong, emotional reason for the move. But it was also a career choice. I didn’t want to work as a designer anymore. I wanted to do my own projects. And I was hearing quite a lot about the art scene in Iran. It was a time where Iranian artists had started to show abroad, so I thought it was an exciting place to move back to. If I had stayed in New York, I probably would have had to work full time and not been able to do the things that I was interested in.”
Once back in Iran, Ansarinia found life hard at first. “For the first couple of years I struggled to find my place again,” she admits. “But I don’t regret it. I don’t think I would be where I am now if I hadn’t moved back. It has brought me many inspirations and possibilities, as well as the space in which to grow.” Her bravery in returning was vindicated when, in 2009, two years after coming back, she won the prestigious Abraaj Group Art Prize for her work Rhyme and Reason, a handwoven carpet that played upon the traditional floral motifs of the Persian carpet as a way of presenting scenes of contemporary life in Iran. In the years since, her work has evolved to incorporate a series of thoughtful reflections upon the tensions between public and private worlds in Tehran, while the city is made and unmade around her.