Deniz Izadi makes artworks full of contrast. Moving, neon lights set against a black background to create imagery that exhibits the paradoxes she encounters in her daily life. A female artist born in Iran, she says “we are battling against decades of repression.” She tells Nina Knaack about how she found a voice for her stories via NFTs.
Art has always been a part of Deniz Izadi’s life. The walls of her family home in Tehran are covered with paintings collected by her father, whilst her parents encouraged creative experimentation from a young age. “As a kid I loved drawing things I had seen in movies or storylines that I had created in my mind. I never just drew random objects or animals. Today still, my illustrations always tell a story.” Deniz always knew she wanted to be an artist. Thanks to her talent, perseverance, and web3, “I managed to follow my dream.”
After studying at the Art & Architecture University of Tehran, Deniz worked part-time as an art teacher whilst creating art of her own. “This was a great opportunity to improve my skills by engaging with the students. I loved passing along creativity and getting new inspiration back from other curious minds.”
In those seven years she also held two solo shows and many group exhibitions in her home country. For Deniz, it is crucial that art has an audience. “All of my artworks have a purpose, so they need to be shown. I want people to think about the subjects I address.”
“I managed to follow my dream.”
— Deniz Izadi
Painting has consistently been Deniz's primary medium, but over time she felt that she needed more tools, as an artist, “to express my feelings and concerns. That’s why I was eager to explore other genres like conceptual, video, and digital art.” But all of her plans were crushed because of the pandemic, which forced her to fly home to Iran, where she was stuck.
At the height of her despair, a friend told her about NFTs. “After a dark period I finally saw some light at the end of the tunnel. I started spending many hours listening to Clubhouse spaces, wanting to learn everything regarding NFTs,” she explains. “After two months of intensive research I decided to dive into web3.”
She often heard from people that they thought she would be the last person to mint art as NFTs. “This probably comes from the fact that I am not so good with technology and I did not even have a smartphone until 2016. But I have always felt that an artist is not really an artist until their work is seen.” Even though living in your own creative bubble is where most artists are happy, Deniz thinks it is the duty of an artist to shed light on things in the external world as well as their internal world.
Minting NFTs is exactly how she thinks artists can be heard. “I saw first-hand how my works reached a wider audience than ever. Collectors and other artists then encouraged me to share more of my work, I got invitations for collaborations, and I was asked for exhibitions in the metaverse. My stories were finally heard by a lot of people.”
Those stories are very personal for Deniz. She grew up in a country full of paradoxes that she wants to exhibit to the world. “I see it as my necessity as an artist to narrate hidden pain and create awareness with your audience. My mentor once told me that a smart artist is someone who can show the darkest concepts in the sharpest possible way. That is exactly what I aim for.”
By making colourful pixels that dance in the darkness, Deniz amplifies the contradictions between what is seen and what is reality, focusing as much on the interactions between the pixels as the pixels themselves. A lot of her works’ titles are women’s names inspired by Walt Disney characters. “I want to emphasise the big gap between the fairy tales that people dream of and the hardships of the lives most of us are actually living.”
Today, the situation in Iran has pushed Deniz to create more protest art. After the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody, arrested in September by the Iranian morality police for violating Iran’s strict dress code, and the death of more than two hundred protesters in the ensuing protests, Deniz has channeled inspiration from domestic events into her art. Every day is Halloween here! is an example of how Deniz shows her perspective on the situation in her country.
“The events of these days in Iran have made my heart hurt,” Deniz sighs. “We are battling against decades of repression and demand an end to violence and discrimination against women, as well as an end to having to wear a hijab.” The new generation is fighting for freedom. “They are so brave for doing so, standing on the streets unarmed.”
That became the inspiration for her Revenge collection. The works portrays women baring weapons like knives or a crossbow, clearly ready to take matters into their own hands. “I sometimes imagine the women that were killed during the protests coming back to fight the evil regime with supernatural powers. That’s what the collection propagates.”
“We did not always win, but we cannot let that stop us.”
— Deniz Izadi
It is critical for Deniz to ensure that the world understands what is happening in Iran. “After a while the news of Mahsa’s death faded to the background and another happening in the world became the next big thing everyone talked about. I know that we have to fight for what we believe in. Many women in my country – myself included – fought step by step to achieve what we wanted.
“We did not always win, but we cannot let that stop us. We are warrior women and will not give up to stand up for our rights. I deeply hope that the new age of the internet will make sure that our voices are heard louder than ever and will eventually affect the change that is desperately needed.”
“We are battling against decades of repression and demand an end to violence and discrimination against women.”
— Deniz Izadi
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