A Conversation with Illya Mousavijad
Interlochen Review Visual Arts Editors Jazmyne Saltus and Stephanie Bennett, along with Audio/Video Editors Zoe (Mattie) Graff and Ryan Murray, sat down with Visual Arts major Illya Mousavijad to discuss the influences and ideas that have shaped the artwork in his featured portfolio.
Interlochen Review: How has the move from an Iranian Fine Arts School changed your art?
Illya Mousavijad: I think, to me at least, it was something cultural. By cultural I mean people, their life, worldview, ethics, perspectives, a way of communication, language, literally everything. The education I received here was different from what was current in Iran. Interlochen has been very supportive to me, or in other words, I guess I can say I have had facilities here; I have had a kind faculty here that has helped me a lot.
IR: Which pieces of your art do you have the biggest attachments to and why?
IM: I think that’s a very hard question. I’m not sure if I have a specific answer to it. I like my copies; I like my studies. I started from a very cartoonish style when I was a kid at a very little age. That has been a part of my personality and then I have experienced painting and painting oils and all of those stories are very fascinating to me. So, I’m not sure. Maybe “Superficial Time” since I think it is very dominant in my show currently. Maybe the studies I have had in my uncle’s office in California. The studies have usually been very impressive and expressive to me. And I like the honesty of them. They are not really pushed. They are not really symbolizing anything, and the manner of study and the philosophy of the study, to me, are very rich.
IR: You mentioned how you’ve been drawing since you were little, what made you decide to pursue art as a professional career?
IM: My mother helped me a lot. My mother herself used to paint. She doesn’t since she is very busy now but she loves it and truly loves some Russian painters. Russian realists such as Ilya Repin and then she decided when I was born, (laughter) I don’t really know how and why she thought, “I’m going to be a painter,” and she decided to call me Illya. Anyway, I started drawing when I was two years old. She encouraged me a lot. I myself enjoyed it a lot. Everything could give me some motivation to paint since through painting I could express my feeling. Then it became the only thing to me. Pretty much the only thing now I know and I have been able to do well. In contrast I have not been as successful in other fields like science, sports or other activities. I have been really focusing on it. I think the support of my parents, obviously, plus my own fate in a sense, have been the most dominant reasons.
IR: What is your favorite medium? Why?
IM: I pretty much love all of the fine arts. I think that traditional fine arts which are drawing, printmaking, sculpture and painting are all very drawing based, and since my basic principle is drawing, I really enjoy all of them. I love oil paint. I really enjoy graphite drawing. There are fascinating things in printmaking, sculpture, marble carving, bronze casting, plaster, anything. I love all of them, but my focus is on drawing and improving my skills in it.
IR: Why is sticking to traditional techniques important to you as an artist?
IM: Basically, there is something in it that is just very mysterious. The characters and the mood in traditional works, especially in the Baroque period, are very deep. They're very interesting, they're so special, they're not very privileged, but they are very, in a sense, unique. Especially nowadays, since the philosophy behind them doesn’t go on any longer, they make a lot of sense to me. As a student, I appreciate their sculptural qualities and the loyalty of the traditional arts to logic.
IR: How did you come up with the idea of your piece “Under the Force of the Hijab”? And what are your intentions behind it?
IM: This is a pretty big story in Iran. People in Iran have this decision. Women have to wear a hijab. They have to cover themselves. This is a rule based on Islamic philosophy. They have to do that even if they do not want to and regardless of their own religion or belief. I’m absolutely not questioning the philosophy, but the most important thing to me is that hijab is not necessarily a reason for goodness—it is not necessarily a symbol and a sign of it. There can be horrible people under hijab, there can be sincere wonderful people without it. I think there are many people dealing with these paradoxes in my country. It is just a kind of study I have done, dealing with my experiences due to living in Iran.
IR: A lot of your pieces (“Guise,” “Masks” and “Character Designer”) can be interpreted as exploring the idea of wearing metaphorical masks to hide one’s true face. Where does this interest in people’s true nature come from?
IM: I am just very interested in human’s personalities, the way we communicate, our personas, our façades. A lot of times we cover our real persona—sometimes we act in a way we cover our belief as if sometimes we do not care about our own reality but most of the time we do not dare to show it, but why? Probably we have to do it. This is most probably again a paradox that in order to protect our ego, we prefer to hide it. To me, it is just interesting, maybe even sad. How often do we forget the fact, our reality, what we really are, just because we wear too many masks and we lie? This has been the idea behind the piece “Conscious Ignorance,” and nowadays we have to expand this issue just because it has become a part of our life. The more we are dealing with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and modern communicative medias, the more we are creating façades, personas, and probably the more we are losing our identities and our reality.
IR: Your style has been described as mixing contemporary ideas with old techniques. Can you explain this concept and how it serves in emphasizing your own art?
IM: As I explained, I believe in traditional art which in its own place appreciated nature and reality. I am aware that contemporary subjects deal with modern world. But I want to use that powerful device to express new concepts because I believe in their expressive power.
IR: To you, what is the importance of visual arts in the modern world?
IM: Everything we see is visual. Not all but a very large part of our understanding is based on our visual understanding, what we see and observe. There are mysterious, amazing things in it. According to some philosophers, it is also possible that there is nothing there. I’m not sure, but to me it means a lot. That’s why I like to study reality, namely my surroundings. That’s just a part of our community as human beings. We need visual arts. We need to have another language rather than verbal language in terms of art. It can be visual, it can be musical. There are many things that we can’t really say through words, sentences, writing or verbal language.
IR: What does your final body of work mean to you?
IM: It’s just an adventure to me. It is basically nothing more than a study. It’s basically me having stories in this world based on my experience, me experimenting in new techniques, new ideas, nothing very much more than that.
Check out Illya's Thesis Statement and Featured Portfolio below:
I was born in Isfahan, Iran in 1996. I started drawing when I was two. I have been drawing almost all of my life. Since the beginning, it has become a priority for me, rather than a pastime. The majority of my life, I have been working on my own when drawing my imaginary works. My official art education began in high school, first in Iran, and for the last two years, at Interlochen Arts Academy in the United States.
I have always been influenced by the works of the great European masters, which has kept me loyal to their techniques in our modern times, I see myself facing a new world, which impacts my subjects. Perhaps what I am doing is presenting contemporary ideas with old techniques. Being an artist is mostly responding to reality. I try to be a good observer and study my surroundings as well as possible.