Naghmeh Navabi’s delicate collages are rooted in loneliness

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Blending painting, collage, and photography, the Iranian artist’s compositions respond to her homeland; her experience of leaving, and the realities of those forced to flee their homes

“I will build a boat; I will cast it in the water; I will sail away from this strange land; Where no one in the grove of love, awakens the heroes.” So begins the poem Beyond The Seas by the 20th-century Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri; a poem, which came to mind as Naghmeh Navabi observed harrowing scenes of refugees fleeing in vessels across vast seas. Following which, she created the collage, above; an ornamental boat buffeted by rough waves.

Home is a concept that threads through Navabi’s oeuvre and it stems from her relationship to her homeland, Iran. Born in 1982, Navabi moved to London later in life, studying at the London College of Communication, which she graduated from in 2019. Despite her new surroundings, a nostalgia for Iran persists throughout her work, and her collages are replete with elements — architectural details and traditional Persian patterns — referencing her home. “My motherland is part of my identity,” she explains.

Navabi initially studied painting, but her focus shifted: “When I moved to London I decided to buy a camera and start shooting in a strange city, which is very different from my motherland,” she reflects. “Eventually, I found a connection to photography, which gave me motivation and hope in what was a very lonely situation.”

Drawing inspiration from the photography of Shirin Neshat, and Newsha Tavakolian, the collages of Wangechi Mutu, and the poems of the late Forough Farrokhzad, Navabi blends multiple mediums to create something distinct: hypnotic photocollages, which respond to her identity — a centre to which she returns over and over again.

See more of Navabi’s work here, Safar (Beyond the seas) is also available to purchase as a print here.