GDMFA 2014

Yalda Night is a project that connects poetry and experimental typography. I have attempted to explore physicality in type and to make the words come alive through photography and light projection. Yalda Night narrates my attempts at interpreting traditional poems in a real world fraught with cultural and visual conflicts.

I chose the poems of the renowned Persian philosopher, mathematician, and poet Omar Khayyam (1048–1131), which have inspired my perspective on life. Khayyam tried to make his readers conscious of the many possibilities that life affords and enjoy every moment of life, as it is precious.

Yalda night is the Persian winter solstice celebration when family and close friends would get together. It included customs like reading poetry, intended to protect people from misfortune. As the 13th-century Persian poet Sa’di wrote, “The true morning will not come, until the Yalda Night is gone”.

Experiments

I’m always eager to try various techniques to discover a better way to convey my visual message. It doesn’t matter how daunting these challenges are, because I can’t control my curiosity for new experiences. All that hard work pursuing time-consuming processes has given me something to draw from.

Looking
Inward

My thesis project, employs experimental typography to interpret poetry. I tried to explore how Roman and Farsi letterforms can sit on the same surface. I played with the conflict between these two languages and how they adjust themselves formally beside each other. I took advantage of the sculptural capability of Farsi words and made them the object of my posters. I tried to show the fluid mingling of Farsi and English letterforms to symbolize a relationship between cultures.

Process
Final Work

Looking
Outward

I wanted to explore ways in which I could invite others to experience my point of view as a person from a different culture, who moved from Iran to the U.S. I wished to share my intimate feelings, such as loneliness, fear, and the comfort I feel from reading poems. I took original and classic poems as a message from the past and from another land; I tried to add my flavor to them, not only to enhance and communicate the message, but also to make it enjoyable and encouraging to read. I wanted to integrate image and type. I decided to interpret the poems using environments inhabited by a variety of people, in a real world fraught with the cultural and visual conflicts I had been experiencing. I shared Iranian poems in dimensional form in different environments and capture the moments when people interact with Farsi types. I projected the words of the Farsi poem onto their bodies while they danced or posed with Farsi typography. I selected the environments according to the meanings and theme of the poems and how I want narrate my story through interpreting poems.

Process

Final Work

Essay

Life is a chance that you have once. Life is what you make it. I was born in Iran in 1982, right after after the Islamic revolution. I can define my childhood as having lived through eight years of war. Or I can define my childhood as passing the days in Iranian gardens, sleeping at night among the shapes and patterns of the Persian carpets. By looking at these, I can focus on the tyranny in my country, or I can see a country of different textures, colors, and calligraphy. Art is a rich presence in the daily lives of my people, and it is a rich presence in my life, too.

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A lot of restrictions encumbered my school days. Teaching methods changed every year according to shifting government policies for training Iranian students. This didn’t have the effect that the government had hoped for. The restrictions made me more playful, and the ever-changing curriculum caused me to be more curious about other beliefs. I learned never to follow blindly.

In my professional life, despite the financial problems, I preferred to work with a limited number of clients who believed in my work and allowed me to enjoy new experiences in unique projects. These clients allowed me more time to reach my professional goals. I’ve never regretted being so choosy, because a large part of my life belongs to my profession. The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.

In August 2012, after an 18-hour flight from Iran, I landed at Dulles International Airport. I did not know anybody in America. I did not know anyone who could meet me at the airport and introduce me to the city of Baltimore. I was a new student in the graduate program at MICA. I was 30 years old, and I had decided to Start from scratch.The experience was lonely; the financial risks were high. But my curiosity drove me to open a new door and to find a new life. Hardships have made me who I am: a new Sara. I try to be more creative and productive because I believe that you only live once, and if you do it right, once is enough. Being in the United States has given me opportunities to do wonderful projects under the supervision of knowledgeable professors. I have met professional graphic designers, and their critiques of my works made me work harder. I’m improving a lot, and my improvement makes it easier for me to close my eyes against the pain of missing my family and friends. Sometimes, I miss having breakfast in my parents’ house while my mom sits on the other side of the table, talking continuously about subjects I never used to care about. But being far from them makes me appreciate all these moments, because who knows when I will be with them next? I miss lying on my sister's bed, laughing with her, wishing the moment would never end. This question is always in my mind: Was the move to America worth it? I would never have been able to improve as much in my country as I have in the U.S. Every day here I come across new things and have new experiences. Since studying at MICA, I have worked hard to develop my skills in design, technically and creatively.

Yalda Night is the name of my thesis project, which pursues themes of poetry and experimental typography. Yalda Night is the Persian winter-solstice celebration, when family and close friends traditionally get together. People customarily read poetry, which is intended to protect them from misfortune. Reading poetry in Iranian culture is important, especially if you want to impress others or express your ideas. I wanted to explore ways in which I could invite others to experience my point of view as a person from a different culture, who had moved from Iran to the US. I wished to share my intimate feelings, such as loneliness, fear, and the comfort I feel from reading poems.

I chose the poems of the renowned Persian philosopher, mathematician, and poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), which serve as a source of inspiration for my perspective on life. The overarching theme of all his poems to enjoy every moment of life, as it is precious. Khayyam sought to make his readers conscious of the many possibilities and pleasures that life affords. I took original and classic poems as a message from the past and from another land; I tried to add my flavor to them, not only to enhance and communicate the message, but also to make it enjoyable and encouraging to read. I wanted to integrate image and type. I decided to interpret the poems using environments inhabited by a variety of people, in a real world fraught with the cultural and visual conflicts I had been experiencing as a visitor to the U.S. I shared Iranian poems in dimensional form in different environments and captured moments when people interact with Farsi types. I projected the words of the Farsi poems onto their bodies while they danced or posed with cutouts of Farsi letters.

I selected the environments according to the meanings and theme of the poems and how I want narrate my story. Lexington Market is a local marketplace where many people shop. I respected everyone, because everyone has a different life story. I hung the Farsi words of a poem at the central area of the marketplace or gave them the giant Farsi words to see how they respond to them. I also shared the poems in English, and we chatted about the poems and my culture. These events were fun and satisfying. I met many interesting people. It was a participatory process. I had to get other people involved and make them interested to in helping me with my project. It was a collaborative project, or better to say cultural collaboration, between these people and me. Everyone connected through design in that space. I had to talk, dance and make jokes in these tense moments with people to invite them to interact with my piece.

It was so tough to leave my studio space and visit public places to conduct experimental design projects. I had to summon courage to do all this, and I learned how to be brave. I kept asking myself, what if people don’t respond to my project in the way I was expecting? What if I fall in an unsafe situation? What if it doesn’t work at all? But this is how an experimental project works: you can’t be positive or clear about the result.

The second half of my thesis took a different approach – more inward and formal. Aside from examining the capabilities of dimensional and physical types in my posters, I also try to explore how Roman and Farsi letterforms can sit on the same surface. I played with the conflict between these two languages and how they adjust themselves formally beside each other. This part of the project is a presentation of my mind as a bilingual person. Sometimes, I start thinking in English, and sometimes I start speaking Farsi with my American friends. Farsi is read from right to left while English read from left to right. Letters are connected in Farsi but separated in English. I took advantage of the sculptural capability of Farsi words and made them the object of my posters. I tried to show the fluid mingling of Farsi and English letterforms to symbolize a relationship between cultures.

I hope that my thesis project allows viewers to experience my world and some important aspects of Iranian literary culture. I wish to invoke some curiosity about our ancient culture and offer a view that is in contrast to the dark and hostile imagery presented by the news media. I am bridging cultures with my design, and I want to take it a step farther. I want to introduce new perspectives, but I also want to change perceptions.

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Exhibition

March 28
April 06
2014
RIGG Gallery
MICA