On Sunday, March 13, the Farhang Foundation welcomes the spring equinox with the Nowruz (Iranian New Year) celebration at LACMA. The museum will host a full day of exciting activities throughout the campus including a haft-sîn display, musical and dance performances, family programs, a traditional costume parade, and more. Maryam Ghanbarian, an Iranian artist currently living and working in Tehran, was named the winner of the Farhang Foundation’s 2016 Nowruz Festival banner contest, which called upon the public to submit designs that visually represent the spirit of Nowruz. I caught up with Ghanbarian to learn how she came up with the winning design.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did you study?
I was born and raised in Tehran. After I received my undergraduate degree I enrolled in the Masters Program in Fine Arts at Tehran University. It was during that period that I became interested in calligraphy as an art form and completed my Masters Thesis on this topic. Winning this contest has been among my happiest moments and to be the first artist in Iran to win was particularly gratifying. I am equally thrilled to have the opportunity to be in touch with LACMA, as it is one of my dreams to have my work on view at LACMA one day!
What was your design process for this banner? How did you decide on the fish motif and why?
As a professional painter my work has been greatly influenced by calligraphy and its rich history and cultural significance. The elements displayed by the banner I designed were inspired by my memories of Nowruz from childhood. I think the wheatgrass (sabzeh) and the goldfish are among the most prominent elements of our haft-sîn and the design is intended to reflect them.
I definitely see the influence of calligraphy in your work. Could you explain the connection between Nowruz and the art of calligraphy?
Calligraphy is an art form that is deeply rooted in our culture and Iranian artists have created a unique place for it in our artistic tradition. Written words like poetry have always played an important role in how we celebrate Nowruz and in my mind calligraphy marries these two wonderful traditions.
Your design has a great sense of movement and liveliness. How does this play into the spirit of Nowruz?
As I am sure you know, Nowruz is a special time in our culture and represents the arrival of a New Year and a new beginning with all its hope and optimism.
Do you have a specific memory or family tradition that you would like to share?
Nowruz is not only a celebration of the Persian New Year but also a time when we come together as family. One of the most wonderful things about Nowruz is the moment when the New Year actually begins and that instant can happen at any time of day or night. When that moment finally arrives we call to congratulate each other and wish each other a wonderful New Year while listening to someone recite poetry by Hafez. These moments have left a strong impression on me as I was growing up.
How would you explain the Nowruz celebration to someone who has never experienced it before?
Nowruz is when Persians all over the world celebrate the arrival of spring that marks the beginning of the New Year. We celebrate by getting together with family around the haft-sîn, an arrangement of seven items that begin with the letter that sounds like S. These are long and cherished traditions that have been in existence for over 2,500 years. This history is what inspires us and gives us hope to always look for the promise of a better future that a new year brings. Nowruz is a state of mind that celebrates life and reminds us all the joys of being Persian.