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About the Artist

Mona Shomali was born in Los Angeles California in the year 1979, the same year of the Iranian Revolution. While pregnant, her mother fled Iran out of fear of persecution for her non-Muslim religion (Bahai Faith), followed months later by her father. In her early years, she was raised almost exclusively with the Iranian Diaspora, not learning English till her first day of kindergarten.  Eventually, the young family moved to the San Francisco bay area. Mona was raised in the east bay, attended university in Santa Cruz, and lived and worked in San Francisco where she met her husband on the N Judah train. A few years later, she moved to New York with her husband and completed a Masters program at NYU. Currently, Mona lives in Manhattan with her husband, their two cats and many plants.

Her first real “rush” as an Artist was when she was 14 years old and was introduced by her high school art teacher to the live nude drawing group, a weekly collective that was organized by the Berkeley Artists Guild. She became a regular, experimenting with how to sketch and paint the human body in charcoal, watercolor and oil mediums. Painting was always an extremely personal way of resolving the contradictions and frustrations of living between what felt like clashing cultural rules for women and men. More importantly, it became a way to confront the media images of Iranian women who were black shrouded, shapeless, and sexless- as if having no desire, voices or volitions of their own. In this way, the Iranian/ Persian “women” in the paintings became surreal and symbolic, transforming taboos and traditional assumptions of both cultures into a more complex self defined identity.

About the Art

Overall, Mona’s art has been most influenced by the (California) bay area figurative movement (1950-1965), and Iranian or Iranian- American art. Of the bay area figurative artist movement, the individuals that made the deepest impressions were: Nathan Oliveira, Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Brown and Manuel Neri. As far as other figurative artists, European artists such as Matisse and Gauguin and Latino artists such as Kahlo and Riviera were also very influential. While Iranian royal art during the Qajar Epoch (1785-1925) fascinates in its flat ornamental style, many other contemporary Iranian-American artists tell a narrative story in an ethnographic language that other members of the modern and global Iranian Diaspora can relate to. Her most admired contemporary artists are: Shirin Neshat, Ali Dadgar, Marjane Satrapi and Taraneh Hemami.

The women are nude because nudity can represent so many different extremes within the narrative of being Iranian American: freedom and shame, tradition and modernity, public and private, vulnerability and pride, ownership and selflessness, oppression and liberation. The live model subjects of the paintings have been various Iranian friends and relatives over the years. All the paintings are oil on canvas. This collection took place over the course of 8 years.