Spotlight: Pedram Penhan
Pedram Penhan is a mixed-media artist with a nomadic tendency. His travels have opened his eyes to the power art can have in social change.
Pride In Business: Could you describe your approach to your art?
Pedram Penhan: In terms of my photography I tend to do what I call over-layering, which is a lot of different photos just going over each other. And I think with that, I kind of try to send out the message that has more layers than just one surface.
PIB: What would you say is your primary medium?
PP: It's really hard to say because I practice both photography and painting religiously. Honestly, I try to do both almost every day.
PIB: Could you tell me about the one time you took an art class?
PP: So, I did take an art class when I was eleven. The teacher was a dear friend of my mom and she felt like this could really help me. But after my first session, I kind of felt like, here I only have to paint what the master is telling me to. It was very basic drawings of still life and that kind of made me want to run away from it and not really take instruction. I'd rather just see how I can express what's happening in my head rather than what I can already see in front of my eyes.
PIB: How would you say that's influenced your work?
PP: I would say it has a lot in terms of being authentic and original. It kind of became my way of going inward in order to express myself.
PIB: With a lot of your work there are some very vibrant colours and a sort of digitally processed feeling to some of the works. What inspires you to use bold colouring and that digitized effect to your art?
PP: I would say I like the complexity of it. The fact that I do think, in general, art should be exaggerated to a point. Or at least the message behind it has to be exaggerated. I think that makes it more impactful.
PIB: You use the descriptor "nomad" on your website. Why?
PP: I started traveling at the age of 17 on my own and going from one country to another to find a place that I could call home. And I think during that process I kind of built up this nomadic mentality.
PIB: How long have you been in Calgary for?
PP: I've been in Calgary since January, 2017. So, almost two years and a half. On June 17, it will be four years since I came to Canada.
PIB: What is your impression of the city then?
PP: I would say, based on my own reference, I find Calgary small, I find it very conservative compared to other places that I've lived. At the same time I sense an energy here. There is a flow. It's very collective and that really attracts me to be here.
PIB: You touched on a point that I think a lot of people feel about Calgary in that it's typically seen as quite conservative. How do you find that impacts your approach to your art?
PP: It's definitely very encouraging for me. It doesn't really put me down or disappoint me in any way, but it rather triggered something in me like this is something that I could work toward changing.
PIB: When did social activism become a focus in your work?
PP: More so when I was younger, I would say. Probably when I started traveling around and just noticing how there is injustice and inequality everywhere. Before that, I was in my own bubble and in my home country, I didn't know. I didn't know that we all go through the same problems and issues in life. After traveling, that started shifting and I noticed that humans everywhere are suffering from the same things. I think that kind of made me want to do something about it.
PIB: Why do you think art is an effective tool for sharing these issues?
PP: I think because art could be the most healing tool that's so far accessible for everyone, in terms of a society and in terms of how many people can relate to something that can be sent out through art. I think that makes it a stronger tool. Art is healing in general, I think. An artist basically puts the ugliness or the problems of this world into beauty.
PIB: You've included some self-portraits in your submissions. Why choose to turn the camera on yourself?
PP: I think there are multiple reasons. One would be that I didn't have as much access because of traveling, being in a country that I didn't really know anyone. The other thing would be the awareness that I have about myself, more so than someone else. Maybe knowing that because I went through this, I can use it, I can project it into my art.
PIB: A common thread within the queer community is that they don't see a lot of representation in media. Why do you think having art that furthers representation of the queer community is important?
PP: I think for the same reason that art is important. It can be liberating for so many people who are not at that level of awareness or liberation. Maybe people who are not as much in peace with who they are can relate to a piece of art and actually think about it and change that mindset.
PIB: Why do you think the queer community gravitates towards art?
PP: I think because the queer community has been suppressed for so long. From the hard stuff that comes out, people, at some point, start to heal themselves and the result that comes out is something that we call art.
PIB: You mentioned earlier that, while the city can be quite conservative, there are these sort of pocket communities where people come together and are quite close. Would the arts community here be one of those pockets?
PP: I would say so. For myself, I'm still on my way to integrate into the society here. I find it harder because I feel like, because of the conservatism, a lot of things are more contained here and it's not as open. But yeah, I do belong to some smaller communities and they are mostly communities of art.
PIB: Is there anything that you would like to add?
PP: The only other thing I would want to point out would be for the LGBTQ community here to embrace the rights and the freedoms that they already have.
PIB: Absolutely. I think that's an important thing to reflect on in the current political climate.
PP: Totally. Because the country that I come from wouldn't let me live for who I am. I'm trying to make a voice here and I know that there still needs to be movements and reforms, but people also need to make peace with what they have and embrace that freedom that exists here.