My name is Maryam Safajoo a Tufts University alumni. I’m a Persian-American painter based in the United States and graduated with an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston in 2016. My paintings narrate the stories of the contemporary situation of the systematically persecuted Iranian Baha’i community – Iran’s largest religious minority – after the 1979 Iranian revolution.
I experienced this oppression myself in Iran. I remember the day in the early morning when government security forces burst into my home, ransacked it and took my father to prison; my younger sister was crying on her way to school. Later my sister was denied access to university and because of her quest to understand why, was placed in solitary confinement. These are only a few examples of what Baha’is around Iran have and are currently experiencing.
My paintings narrate these stories which are a result of my conversations and interviews with the people who were near or in these actual events. Many of the incidents I depict only exist in the memory of those who experienced them and have no pictorial existence. In many cases if visual records did exist, they have been confiscated by the Iranian authorities in raids of homes. My depictions are often the first time these events have taken visual form. I record the details of this history. For example, the shoes, clothes, artifacts, and environments seen in my paintings are very close to those that were there in the event.
Many of my paintings depict the stories of the persecution of my immediate and extended family, the stories that I grew up with in my childhood. As a child I often accompanied my family to visit the homes of the Baha’is in Iran who had lost members of their family due to this persecution. My mother herself was in prison when she was 19 for about 2 years and nearly all her friends she was imprisoned with were executed for being Baha’i( Mona Mahmoudnejad, Zarin Moghimi, etc…). We would often visit the families of her cellmates and I would hear first-hand the stories of these brave individuals from their closest relatives. While growing up my home was filled with the various stories of the persecution of the Baha’is around Iran and were woven into the fabric of my everyday life. These experiences in my formative years had a very influential effect on me and lay at the heart of my current artistic practice.
I take inspiration from interviewing, hearing, feeling, reading, and researching the stories of the Bahai’s of Iran.
My paintings tell the stories of this systematic persecution— including execution or murder, arrest, detainment, and interrogation. Tens of thousands more have been deprived of jobs, pensions and educational opportunities – including a systematic denial of access to higher education. Bahá’í cemeteries, and properties have been confiscated, vandalized, or destroyed, and many Bahá’ís have had their homes and other property seized or damaged etc. Throughout my work, I am constantly reflecting on the concept of a humanity free from prejudice; that is how we can eliminate our prejudices against any people on the basis of color, nationality, gender or identity, economic or educational status etc. As we know, these prejudices can complicate the development of our community and prevent us from growing together, from building a better world. I pose and also ask who individuals familiar with the events to pose and dress as the figures in my paintings. I have been working on this subject since 2013.
I primarily work with oil on Linen and when necessary, in the past, I have used mixed media to maintain historical accuracy. I work on small canvases and the details are often miniature in scale. Each of my paintings are thoroughly researched, are inspired by actual events, and show the beautiful aspects of those who have been persecuted by highlighting their steadfastness, powerful spirit, and love for humanity.
Maryam’s paintings are based on qualitative research with those who are familiar with the situation she depicts; they are a combination of research and art.
Maryam was not able to study her BFA in Iran because of the danger of being kicked out of the public university she was surprisingly allowed to enter. She chose business administration, a program that also existed at the BIHE (the University that the Bahá’í Professors who were kicked out of the University made) so if she were kicked out, she could continue her studies at the BIHE. When she moved to the United States, she applied for an MFA program and was accepted by the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, MA. She works on heavily emotional subjects in each painting.
Maryam's works are part of the permanent collections of
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm, Sweden
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
Dayton International Peace Museum, Dayton, OH
Albany Museum of Art, Albany, GA
NIU Art Museum, IL
Crary Art Gallery, a Nonprofit Art Museum, PA
And many other private collections.
Maryam has and will be exhibiting her work at venues including The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Massachusetts State House, International Peace Museum in Dayton, OH, Albany Museum of Art in Georgia, NIU Art Museum in Illinois, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago, Crary Art Gallery, a Nonprofit Art Museum, Harvard University and presented at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Her remarks at the AJC Boston Diplomats Seder in 2016 was adapted by Boston Herald into an article. Her work has recently been featured by IranWire, Tavaana, PersianBMS, Radio Farda, Nashraasoo, VOA, Mass General Hospital Global OB-GYN Newsletter and the BBC.