An RMIT PhD candidate has taken away the lucrative $1,500 Tertiary award at the inaugural Footscray Art Prize. But after six years living in Australia, Mohsen Meysami’s work is still heavily inspired by his experiences growing up in Iran during a time of major conflict.
Lasting from 1980 until 1988, the Iran-Iraq war was well underway by the time Mr Meysami, 34, was born in the Iranian city of Yazd. The war would leave a permanent mark upon the artist’s life—his father served as a member of Iran’s logistics and support team, while his 15-year-old cousin was killed during the conflict.
Mr Meysami’s prize-winning artwork, ‘Their pain, our gain!’, is part of series in which he used “found” Persian handicrafts to convey an anti-war message.
The title of the artwork refers to the fact that while so many lives have been lost after decades of conflict in the Middle-East, the military industry has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world.
“My art is about recent wars and conflicts in the Middle-East…[but] it is also about our indifference to the people whose lives have been affected by it,” he said.
“If we look more carefully, we will realise that our privileges may be linked to the suffering of others.
“In this work…I tried to visualise this correlation or interdependency of a group of peoples’ profits to another’s misery.”
While ‘Their pain, our gain!’ bears visual elements from traditional Persian art—Mr Meysami was heavily influenced by his uncle, who is also an artist—he has had to adapt his artworks to be more accessible to a Western audience.
“If I was [still] working in Iran…a major part of my art would be calligraphy,” he said.
“But I decided to leave this idea, because I was going to talk to an audience who doesn’t understand that script.
“I look for ways I can communicate with Western people—you have to be always conscious of this, because you might end up making something that doesn’t do what you necessarily wanted it to do.”
Mr Meysami said he was overjoyed to win the Tertiary award at the Footscray Art Prize because this recognition demonstrates his vision has ultimately resonated with a foreign audience.
“When you start a new method there is lots of uncertainty…if you made the right decisions and chose the right materials,” he said.
“I think events such as art awards and exhibitions give opportunities to artists to think about how their art is understood or interpreted once it leaves the studio.
“It gives me confidence that what I’m doing is working.”
Mohsen Meysami’s artwork will be on display at Victoria University’s MetroWest until 24 June 2017.
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!