Shabnam Afrand

On March 10th, we met with RBC Arts Access Fund recipient and curator of 'Resilience; Redefined!' Shabnam Afrand to learn more about the process of creating the exhibition, and its reception.

‘Resilience; Redefined!’ is a group exhibition that featured the work of twelve female Iranian visual artists that ran from March 8- 14, 2020 at Artscape Youngplace.

The curatorial statement notes, “Resilience; Redefined” demonstrates an insight into the lives and thought formations by twelve cross- generational Iranian Canadian female artists who have lived through war, trauma, separation, and displacement. Although the mediums vary from artist to artist, what has remained a constant is an astonishing conflict between their experiences of pain on one hand, and the desire to amend and navigate through their experiences on the other."

The dynamic exhibition filled the entire third floor of Artscape Youngplace and hosted photography, mixed media pieces, paintings and two interactive installations. 

Photo (above) by Elsa Hashemi. Poster design by Mahmoud Hosseini.

Find the interview between Eva Hellreich (EH) and Shabnam Afrand (SA) below:

EH: Why create an exhibition to feature only female Iranian-female artists?

SA: In December, I follow up with Artscape Youngplace for the date of my solo show in 2020 and asked about venue space for group show. The gallery manager told me they have one available spot and coincidentally it was on the International Women’s Day. We are all immigrant women from different generations facing challenges after displacement, living as professional artists and working within the diaspora.

I curated this exhibition because after being here [in Toronto] for six years, I realized it’s not easy for artists, especially middle aged artists, to get inside of the arts scene in Toronto. Torontonians are so good but in some respects are not as good… some middleaged artists struggle with writing artists statements, bios- very basic things. It was my first aim to curate these artists, selected from three different generations. I included students who are young, professional, and about to graduate with MFA's, to show some of their issues. The next generation are thirty to forty years old and came here as newcomers, who share issues with students but have other issues such as working in illustration, where it is harder to introduce yourself. The third generation are between forty to sixty years old and immigrated over fifteen years ago. Despite living in Toronto for fifteen years, they haven't had the chance to introduce themselves to the art scene because of family and financial obligations. Despite the different barriers and experiences, when you look at the works, you see some harmony in colour, form, theme, and similarities in the figurative and abstract. 

EH: Tell us about your personal pieces in the show. (Picture below)

(artwork description: large painting of a pink tulip, up close, with a train track made of wood with a mirror as the base, running below the tulip painting, on the ground and up the wall. There is fake grass behind the train track and another strip of fake grass above the tulip, evoking a sense of nature). 

Photo (above) by Elsa Hashemi

SA: ‘The Green Summit’ is an interactive installation dedicated to my people. This memorial conceptual work started about 7 months ago after various tragedies when we lost some people in my community back home. Three months later, an airplane crashed and 176 more innocent people died. This installation piece is inspired by popular song, by poet “Aref  Ghazvini”: Az khune javanane vatan laleh damidehi’.

I did this upside down tulip because tulips are very meaningful in my culture. It comes out once a year in Spring. I painted it upside down and added a door because the Iranian people that have died- from the plane crash, from the gas explosion, from COVID... they will not be able to see spring. I did this installation for all of these things that are inside of us but we cannot express. Sometimes it’s very sad. These tulips reflect in the mirror; it’s interactive, so when you stay here and look in the mirror, you see the reflection of the tulip in the mirror. The mirrors represent eternity, and the door represents a passage to somewhere we don’t know- maybe it's paradise. This type of interaction is very meaningful for me because when we come here we come with a lot of dreams, thinking Canada is a utopia. But when you arrive you get involved with many other things, and that connection we have to our roots can get lost with distance from our families. 

EH: You mentioned the many challenges and heartbreaks the Iranian community has faced lately being a main inspiration for this show. How has it been received?

SA: Unfortunately, our opening reception had very low turnout. While Canadians are still going to work, COVID has been hurting Iran for weeks now. The community is very afraid. 

The well-known Iranian festival Tigan (Nowruzgan) cancelled in last minute out of fear. Many community members did not come for the same reason. One of our artists was not able to attend as she could not fly back to Toronto from Iran; I even had to get her paintings from her house to install them because of flight issues. 

It is disappointing because we worked so hard on this exhibit. Some of the more mature artists even created new pieces to sell specifically at this exhibition, and turnout has been low because of the pandemic. We spent a lot of time and money putting this show together. Thankfully, I have sold a few pieces!

 I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to “I2CRC” for helping me edit some bios and artists statements. I am also very thankful to Artscape for supporting me the last two years.

As Shabnam mentioned, many immigrant and refugee artists continue to need support after the seven year migration-settlement mark, and struggle to find ways to work around the demands of life during settlement while tending to their artistic practices. Despite these challenges, the Iranian creative community supports one another by creating opportunities for themselves and other artists, within and outside of the Iranian community.

Visit Shabnam’s website and Instagram to see some of the amazing piece included in the show and for updates on other upcoming exibitions.

Participating Artists:

Anahita Akhavan

Bahareh Soltani 

Elham Fatapour

Fariba Baghi

Ferida Dilmaghani 

Golbahar Hassanabadi 

Jamilieh Salek Ostadtaqi 

Melika Saeeda 

Shabnam Afrand

Shafagh Azhandeh 

Shohreh Edalat 

Shahrzad Ossouli

Check out photos of the exhibition at