ARTIST PROFILE

Zahra Saei

Bio

When I was 13 years old, one of my hobbies was to lay out a piece of paper and start drawing my own name in alphabetic graphic designs. I remember that I was a huge fan of Britney Spears, and I would always design her name beside my own name. At that time, I was not aware that what I was doing was called logo designing. Later on, my family encouraged me to go to art school, and I enrolled in a graphics high school in Tehran. From the start of my career, I was always eager to try out new materials. For instance, I would paint fruits' skins and their seeds with bright colors and shape them into necklaces and earrings. To prepare the fruits’ skins I would first place them inside the microwave, and then, I would pour wood glue and normal glue on them as a form of preservative. Later, I did a mask exhibition at Kamaleddin Behzad Gallery in Tehran where I exhibited my masks that were made out of fruit skins, made with the same technique. After completing my high school diploma in graphics, I did my bachelor's degree in handicrafts where I became very interested in Iranian kilims and carpets, and decided to integrate them into my artwork. I met an Iranian nomad who worked in Tehran. He would buy carpets and kilims from the Southern Iranian cities and make chairs and sofas from them, and I would take his left-over pieces and integrate them into my own work. Nine years after I graduated in handicrafts, at the age of 33 and as a mature student, I started a MSc in General Psychology at Allame Tabatai University. I had three main motivations/aims for continuing my studies in psychology. Firstly, I was interested to do research on arts, especially fine arts, from the viewpoint of psychology. I wanted to carry out research on topics such as the relationship between bipolar disorder and creativity, the effect of art therapy -specifically visual arts- in reducing anxiety and depression. I also wanted to study how art therapy can be used for the diagnosis and treatment of female sexual disorders. Secondly, because in Iran there are currently no universities offering art therapy as a university major, I am hoping that my activities will highlight this gap and encourage authorities to launch art therapy as an essential university degree. My third motivation for entering psychology was to help reduce the gender differences and gender discrimination of women in Iran. I realized the need to use art, as an indirect psychological method, to help reduce gender discrimination against Iranian women. Art can be used to increase women’s self-confidence, to help fight depression, and as a means of anger management. It can empower women. Art can even be used in the diagnosis of women’s mental health problems. To achieve the three above goals, during 2 years of my MSc degree, I became a member of Allame-Tabaei university’s Department of Culture and Art, where I started to volunteer as Secretary of the Visual Arts Centre. I held several workshops regarding art therapy under different titles including: ‘Iranian handicrafts and art therapy’, ‘painting to evoke emotions’, and ‘art and psychology. In these workshops, I introduced art therapy and presented the most recent published scientific findings carried out in Iran and in other countries in regard to art therapy. In my workshops, through practical assignments, the students became acquainted with the basics of fine arts. Furthermore, In 2021, I launched the first student magazine in Iran in art therapy called ‘Harmony’ at Allameh Tabatai University. As the secretary of Visual Arts Centre, for a year, every two weeks I held various national online student competitions where participants were asked to color, draw, paint or visualize conceptual words such as anger or love. One of the aims of holding these competitions was to engage students and help enhance their mental health during the covid pandemic.

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