It is easy to see how Hesam Fetrati’s upbringing in war-torn Iran, has informed his body of cartoons, his detailed illustrations and 3D installations. His black and white works expertly delve into socio-political issues that are not so black and white. The absence of colour creates room for contemplation, and his masterful balance between assertive symbolism and detailed surreal elements add layers of complexity and meaning.
Moved by the plights of displaced people affected by the Iran Iraq war, and those of refugees all over the world, Hesam worked as a satirical cartoonist for a few well known Iranian newspapers that valued freedom of speech before moving to Brisbane in 2011. He has now completed a Bachelor of Graphic Design, a Masters degree and is currently completing his Doctorate in Visual Art. But Hesam says his work is informed more by his background and society around him, than his study.
“These degrees have been helpful, however, I think I learned more from myself and my society rather than university…I come from Iran which is an influential country in the Middle East. Iran is a wealthy country with rich natural recourses like gas and oil…The geopolitical situation of Iran caused several socio-political crises. For example, Iran Iraq war which is the longest war in the 20th century. All these historic events have a huge impact on me as a citizen and as an artist.”
Hesam explores allegories of diaspora, alienation and rejection via a range of common reoccurring elements such as anthropomorphised and abandoned suitcases, boats, castrated trees, severed heads, deformed figures and sea monsters. His dark, tumultuous seas and murky skies might suggest deeper psychological perils in addition to the physical dangers of the journey to seek asylum. Works featuring chess pieces are used in the context of war and he also delves into issues surrounding religion and the concept of home.
He explores his subjects in a very deliberate way. His satirical works are simple but effective designed to draw attention to the irony and injustices taking place all over the world as globally we experience the highest number of refugees (50 million) since WWII. The work Medallion of Selfishness is one such example. Hesam says “This piece was created in response to two particular incidences that took place on Manus Island within the detention centres: The death of one refugee to violence and another to unacceptable living conditions. This ironic medallion is an award to those directly and indirectly responsible for such incidences. The Medallion of Selfishness is a distinction for this inhumanity and barbarity in the 21st century. It has been made from bronze to make it more physical and touchable to show how these incidents are close to us.”
In his more detailed work, Hesam’s symbolism is specific, the surreal details layered using images within images. In this way, he cleverly allows his audience to challenge their own ideas and continue to find new messages buried deep within the works. He often uses recognisable landmarks and figures hidden within the works to illuminate the complexity and the familiarity of the subjects.
Hesam prefers satire because it inspires a thoughtful response and he says he often researches and thinks through ideas for months, before working mostly alone, describing his creative process as an isolated, quiet and personal journey. Hesam’s body of work is often serious, but sometimes playful and complex.
“I have tried to avoid making a series of work to reflect the anger and compassion of the victim and the viewer but instead I reflect more on the context surrounding the situation and allow the viewer to pass their own judgment on the activity.” https://www.artpeoplegallery.com/anticipation-series-journey/
Hesam exhibited work as part of the Finding Home: Refugee and Asylum Seekers Art Exhibition in the Logan Art Gallery (ending July 2) and also has work in the Tradition Now Exhibition in the State Library in Brisbane until the 13th November.
If you would like to know more about Hesam Fetrati and his work you can find him here: