Exclusive Interview with the Persian Miniaturist
By Dr. Farzad Farahmand:
Published in the April 2012 issue of the Calabasas Times Magazine:
Persian miniaturist Badri Borghei was born in 1941 in Tehran, Iran. She became interested in painting and started her formal training at the early age of 12. In the early 60’s, she was sent by her father to the United States to study at the National Art Academy in Washington D.C. After studying western art and becoming familiar with the styles of master artists from around the world, she returned to her home country. She found a whole new appreciation for the art and culture of her own country, especially after exploring the art and cultures of the western world. She found her passion in the world of miniature art and in preserving the tradition and the culture of her country of Iran, specially the tradition Norouz, and the celebration of spring.
In 2005, she published a book containing a collection of her paintings titled, “Persian Miniature Paintings” “A window into the infinite garden of a traditional culture” in both Farsi and English.
She appears in the book, “The famous women of Iran” by Ali Zarabi, alongside the Queens of Iran and other influential famous women.
In 1997, she was recognized by the YWCA of Greater Los Angeles as being an “Incredible Woman Making History”, and received a proclamation from Mayor Richard Riordan.
Farzad: Hello and welcome to the Calabasas Times Magazine. I must say, it’s a pleasure and an honor for me to be having a conversation with an artist of your stature. As I understand you are among the few female artists in the world of miniature. An area that is mostly male dominated.
Badri Borghei: First of all it is my pleasure as well to be talking to you, and special thanks to the Calabasas Times Magazine for having me. And yes, that’s right. I am among the very few female miniaturists in the world. But most miniaturists simply paint without having any style or a name. They are mostly unknown.
Farzad: How long have you been painting?
Badri Borghei: Since I should say somewhere around the early 60’s in Iran. And the funny thing is that my father sent me to the United States to Washington D.C, and I attended the National Art Academy. After completing the program I moved to LA and planed to spend time
improving my style and become more acquainted with the masters of Art like Van Gough and other famous French and Italian painters.
When I went back to Iran, I thought I could paint now and that I was very good. But I was not happy and pleased. And so I went to an art institute in Tehran.
Farzad: How old were you back then?
Badri Borghei: I was in my late teens. After I saw the work of the masters and the students at the institute in Tehran, I fell in love with Persian miniature and immediately decided to sign up and start learning this style.
Farzad: Were you planning to turn this into a profession?
Badri Borghei: No, My father was so wealthy that I didn’t even think about selling my painting. I was just painting for pleasure.
I remember telling my father, “We have this art in Iran that’s the best of the best!! Why did you sent me overseas to learn art?” He looked at me and said, “You know something! If I would have sent you to an art school here, you wouldn’t appreciate the art in our country the way you do now!!
Farzad: Now you can feel the contrast.
Badri Borghei: Yes, exactly. And then I recited an old Persian poem to my father which basically translates into searching elsewhere for something we already have in hand.
My father was pleased to hear that. He smiled and said, “I’m so glad that you found what you like” Ever since then my life has changed. I learned the techniques but never let the old master’s styles effect me, since western education always encouraged the students to be creative and not to copy or be followers.
And you can see the result in my work.
Farzad: Could you talk a little about some of the ideas behind your creations?
Badri Borghei: My work has to do everything with the people of Iran!! Their life style, how they celebrate their new year, how they get married, how they get together etc... And this is the difference between my style and the style of other miniaturists.
Farzad: Whereas other styles are more about very deep poetic interpretations, yours is more for everyone to understand and appreciate. Simplicity.
Badri Borghei: Yes, exactly. People sometimes look at my paintings and say, oh, they are so simple!!
Farzad: Not simple but simple for people to understand and relate. The paintings themselves are extremely detailed.
Badri Borghei: Exactly. The subject is simple.
Farzad: Do you sell your paintings?
Badri Borghei: So many people are angry at me for not selling the originals of my paintings, even though I give them explanations and say for example this one belongs to my daughters. I only sell copies, limited addition.
Farzad: How long does it take you to complete a painting?
Badri Borghei: About 6 months, 8 hours a day, including weekends. And you know, many other miniaturists who copy other masters, do it to make money. If they put in 6 months of work to make a painting they cannot make money!!
Farzad: So much is going on in this painting. It brings out the whole experience of Norouz that you ordinarily try to create in your mind, right there in front of you!!
Badri Borghei: Exactly, The ideas are all in me. All I have to do is concentrate and bring the out on paper.
Farzad: And when everything is done, it brings out that inner feeling. That indescribable spring feeling happens to you.
As I understand, you take care of more than just the miniature work in your paintings. Can you tell us more about that?
Badri Borghei: Yes, usually the painting that you see in the museums or galleries are the result of a team work. One does the miniature, one does all the ceramic work in the painting and one
does the borders. I do everything myself. Why? Because I want it to be only my work and I want to be the only one who touched my painting. The only thing that is not my own work is the calligraphy.
Farzad: That’s so unbelievable. And the writing is on such a small area too.
So a whole team of artists come together to create a piece of work. As in music where there is a singer with a voice, there are songwriters, composers, arrangers and an orchestra all coming together to make music. In your case you are the singer, the songwriter, the composer, arranger and the whole orchestra. All on your own!! The ceramic work, rug design, the arrangement of the bricks on the buildings, are all done in such small areas which makes the work much more delicate.
And looking at these paintings is not just a visual experience. What is important is what happens in you when you look at it. Life is simply pouring out of each painting. The whole feeling of spring comes alive.
Badri Borghei: One of my paintings titled spring cleaning has to do with houses, family, guests, how hospitable Iranians are, the culture etc…
Farzad: You know art is something that every time you look at it you can see something new that you didn’t see before. And you can also come up with new interpretations. You say people are able to see new things years after. Is that right?
Badri Borghei: Yes. After 2 years or so they call me and say they have discovered 2 new things in the painting.
Farzad: Something that you probably didn’t see yourself.
Badri Borghei: No. I see everything!! The sensitive, artistic people see all the details and express their feelings.
Farzad: I think most people are in the picture, too busy with their everyday lives. They have to step out of the picture and come out in order to see the details and the big picture. The artists are mostly detached. They are not involved!!
Badri Borghei: I think they are involved, but in time they do detach and see the big picture.
Farzad: Kind of like a reporter. You see what’s going on and you report it.
People are so involved with life and their work, they don’t see anything.
Badri Borghei: And that’s very sad, because life is so beautiful. Instead of enjoying God’s beautiful creations, they destroy themselves and their surroundings. And this is especially hurtful to an artist.
When I look at a flower, I see God in that flower. I see the whole universe in that flower. There is so much beauty and detail in this flower.
Badri Borghei: Organization as you say. It’s a beautiful world and mankind has been destroying it throughout history. Greed is the most destructive thing of all. Ego and greed. If instead they put their concentration on their love for nature and the creator, there would be peace everywhere.
There are 3 things that don’t exist in this world. Peace, Democracy and Freedom. The only thing that exists is power.
Farzad: Now back to your paintings. As you said, you spend months and months creating a painting and then making detailed changes to it. As a perfectionist you are never satisfied. My question is, at what point do you declare the work as complete and ready to go behind the frame?
Badri Borghei: You see, the making of an art work has no end!! There is always room for improvement. But there comes a time when you say it is better to move on to something else. And that is when I sign the bottom and have it framed.
Farzad: Well, I cannot express to you how much I enjoyed our brief conversation. It has truly been an honor for me to talk to such an amazing, sensitive and influential artist. And on behalf of the people of Iran who respect their ancient tradition, I’d like to thank you for all your efforts in protecting and preserving the true culture of Iran, especially Norouz and the celebration of Spring.
Badri Borghei: Thank you so much for having me.