Around the World with Afsoon:  Cross-cultural Travels and Intricate Collages

Send me a Postcard: Spain Andalusia and Greece
Afsoon, 'Send me a Postcard: Spain Andalusia', 2023, watercolour and paper collage on Arches artist paper. Courtesy of ITERARTE & the artist

Afsoon is a mixed-media Iranian artist based in London. She combines a wide variety of techniques, from linocuts and collage to ceramics, to explore different narratives that have inspired her from an early age. She says: “I’ve been making art all my life. My earliest memories are of my parents giving me coloured pencils and paper.

Born in 1961 and brought up in Tehran, Afsoon has been deeply influenced by Persian culture. However, her family had to flee the country during the Iranian Revolution (1978–79); she went to high school in Washington and university in California, before settling down in London and starting a family. “I’m a Londoner. This is my home. I feel it’s a city where you can be who you want to be. I meet people from all over the world and it’s so uplifting and inspiring.

Travel and cross-cultural movement have been a fundamental part of Afsoon’s life and she continues to travel extensively. Her curiosity and fascination with other cultures and traditions clearly influence her artistic practice. Her artworks speak to people from all over the world, connecting people and places with her captivating and vibrant visual storytelling. 

Afsoon first visited India at the age of 20 and it remains a place of enduring inspiration, as evidenced by her fascination with colour, light and texture. She has also found Mexico and Morocco sources of stimulation: “Mexico, in particular, enveloped me in a tapestry of rich scents, while Marrakesh’s colours were extremely vibrant and captivating. Afsoon’s ability to integrate her creative process with travel is evidence of the fluidity of her artistic practice; she carries her materials with her and gathers fresh resources in each destination. 

Much of Afsoon’s practice is based on collecting objects – an extensive and ongoing part of her creative process. She makes use of a myriad of collected items, from old photos and postcards to fabrics and vintage toys. Employing scissors and glue as her tools, she transforms these artefacts into something new and expressive.

I always start my new diary with a collage.

A poignant illustration of this is found in Send Me a Postcard, artworks commissioned especially for ITERARTE. Here, she intertwines old postcards, vintage paper cut-outs and family photos from countries she has visited. Each layer carries the weight of memories – perhaps vibrant evenings spent on the Bosphorus or the noisy bustle of a Turkish bazaar. Sometimes she adds a personal dimension, such as a photo of her own face. Cut-out birds symbolise flight, travel, migration and the liberation of movement. The final layer introduces an ornamental flourish, often in the form of delicately rendered flowers. This meticulous layering technique is reminiscent of Joseph Cornell’s intricate assemblages. 

Collecting photos is also of great importance to Afsoon: “When we left Iran, we could carry very little – one of the things we had were our photo albums. They were very precious because they served as reminders of lives we no longer had, of people you could never see again, or had lost. So I buy other people’s photo albums to be the guardian of their past and then I use them in my work.”

One of the linos I used in my work, I always love seeing the lino before being printed and try to imagine how it will turn out.

Afsoon’s 2023 solo show in Los Angeles, Searching for Myself in the Forest of Bewitchment, draws inspiration from her Iranian childhood, with a focus on talismans, poetry and fairytales. Using linocut (one of the first media she used), hand-printing, painting and collage, it encapsulates the essence of her artistic practice. Her collection of talismans, mostly from Iran, are incorporated in pieces that narrate tales of hope, fear and heroism. Taking particular inspiration from the 12th-century epic Persian poem Haft Pekyar (Seven Beauties) – tales of seven very different, but equally strong princesses – Afsoon highlights the importance of women as role models, and as conscious and subconscious influences on her practice.

Afsoon’s range of artistic influences are many and varied, as might be expected from such a multifaceted artist. She highlights Francisco Goya and emphasises her love of his storytelling: “He wasn’t scared of making things that made people uncomfortable. He was commissioned to paint kings and queens, yet he would go home at night and do what he wanted to do.” She also picks out Paula Rego as an important figure and says they once met. She told Rego she hoped to be an artist, to which the great Portuguese artist replied: “Don’t hope, just be.”

Seven Beauties: Birds
Afsoon, 'Seven Beauties: Birds', 2023, hand printed linocut on printed Somerset artist paper. Courtesy of ITERARTE & the artist

In recent years, Afsoon has moved into the realm of ceramics, transitioning from 2D to 3D expression. She draws parallels between her ceramics and printmaking processes, emphasising the uncertain, dynamic space between creation and completion. She believes her practice will continue to evolve, based on the intersection of those two media.

Through mediums like linocuts, watercolour, and ceramics, she crafts a unique visual language, particularly those inspired by talismans, poetry, and fairy tales. Her dedication to storytelling underscores the enduring power of her intricate practice, connecting people and places across the globe.