Caution: This is a Part of Her Identity

This is Her Identity

A Photostory by Megan Krause

Elham Hajesmaeili is an Iranian living in America, using her art to reconcile the differences between two cultures currently at odds. As Hajesmaeili works through her third semester of the Master of Fine Arts program at Penn State, she creates curvaceous and contoured artwork that highlights the space within and outside of bodies.

Her few materials of clay, paint, cardboard and panty-hoses develop intricate sculptures that exemplify her heritage through Iranian and mosque-inspired patterns and her desire to ground culture in the physicality of the body.

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Elham Hajesmaeili poses with some of the individually cut ceramic tiles that give most of her sculptures their color and weight in her studio in the Visual Arts Building in University Park, Pa. Hajesmaeili’s work this year explores cultural identity as well as space and its absence within the human form.

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Unlike the other sculptures Hajesmaeili created, this piece is made entirely from clay with the Iranian-inspired pattern painted on, allowing for more curvature in the sculpture.

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Elham Hajesmaeili researches traditional mosque and Iranian designs for the inside of her fragile ceramic sculpture in the ceramic studio of the Visual Arts Building. Hajesmaeili uses her art to reconcile the differences between the Iranian and American cultures and to help others understand what it is like to live in America as an Iranian.

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Elham Hajesmaeili sorts through her completed tiles. These tiles are cut into shapes that will help her recreate mosque and Iranian inspired designs on her sculptures that feature the curves and concave of the human body.

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Elham Hajesmaeili listens as the professor of ceramics, Shannon Goff, critiques Hajesmaeili’s work in Hajesmaeili’s studio. Here, Goff suggests a different material to use on the outside of the sculpture, resulting in Hajesmaeili wrapping the outside of the sculpture in a flesh-colored fabric.

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This is Hajesmaeili’s largest sculpture to date. She cut this abstract human shape from a tube of cardboard and covered it with both individually cut ceramic tiles as well as the material used for panty hoses, a nod to the flesh of the human body.

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Elham Hajesmaeili works on two different patterns, only one of which she plans on using for a new sculpture. Hajesmaeili is deciding between a pattern that uses smaller pieces and a pattern that uses larger pieces, weighing the time it will take for her to complete the smaller pattern against how the larger pieces will lay on her curved base.

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Elham Hajesmaeili compares printouts of different patterns for her next, smaller sculpture. Each section in the pattern will need to be individually cut from clay, fired in the kiln and then fitted onto her sculpture base, created from cardboard in order to help counteract the weight of the ceramic tiles.

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Elham Hajesmaeili begins the initial carving of her chosen pattern onto clay which she will then cut into individual pieces for a sculpture and then fire in the kiln in the ceramic studios. Hajesmaeili performs this section of the work twice after she is initially unsatisfied with her work.

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Elham Hajesmaeili faintly traces the outline of her selected pattern onto clay in order to accurately cut it.

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After rolling out the clay into its desired shape, Elham Hajesmaeili decides how to position her pattern on the clay that will go on her cardboard base, bottom left. The plastic on top of the clay keeps the paper from sticking to the wet clay.

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Elham Hajesmaeili works on her final piece of the semester during a late night in her studio. On the floor on the right are the individual tiles cut and laid out in the pattern that Hajesmaeili slowly transfers and attaches to the cardboard base.

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The individual ceramic tiles on this piece needed to be small enough so that Hajesmaeili could attach them to the cardboard base without it losing its bow.

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