Where Persian myths and culture merge with Mediterranean light and colours

Born and raised in Iran, now a resident of Qatar, Elham Razani's art is eye-catching, exquisite, occasionally bold, yet always beautiful. She has exhibited worldwide to international acclaim. I catch up with Elham at her studio in Doha, chatting about her life, her work, her artistic inspirations and her plans for the future.

Born and raised in Iran, now a resident of Qatar, Elham Razani's art is eye-catching, exquisite, occasionally bold, yet always beautiful. She has exhibited worldwide to international acclaim. I catch up with Elham at her studio in Doha, chatting about her life, her work, her artistic inspirations and her plans for the future.


“My name is Elham, and in Persian Elham means inspiration,” Elham says enthusiastically as I walk with her slowly around her studio admiring her work. “I think my parents knew that, as a child, I would grow up to inspire people!” Elham is charming, outgoing, bubbly and extroverted; she obviously enjoys being with people and talking about her work.


As an artist she looks exceptionally organized; her studio is very neat and everything seems to have its place. Her philosophy, she says, is that she needs to have a tidy and organized working environment in order to think and be productive.

Elham was born and raised in Iran, where she lived most of her life. Her mother was a radio and TV host in Tehran, and her father studied Electrical Engineering in Germany. She grew up in a happy, open-minded, well-educated family; a family where education and culture were paramount.


At school she majored in economics: “But I didn't like it,” she said with a cheeky smile. “So I set about exploring and studying other disciplines and subjects to find out exactly where my real interests lay. I was a very curious girl; I wanted to know everything and discover everything for myself.” And Elham certainly wasn't a woman afraid of trying new things; she set about studying just about everything and anything that interested her including computer programming, architecture, pastry making, international cooking, carpet making, sculpturing, crocheting, sewing, playing the guitar, beauty therapy, and she even took a course in tattooing. “Yes,” she laughs, “I suppose you could say I have always been excited to learn new things, to gain knowledge and broaden my skills.”

It wasn't a surprise that she excelled in almost every course she attended, her self-belief is undeniable and unquestionable, she is confident and positive and sets about doing everything to the best of her ability. From just a few minutes chatting to her it is clear to see that if Elham has an idea to do something she will persevere until she does it, and there is very little that will stop her.


Although she studied and tried lots of different things, it wasn't until a friend of hers asked Elham if she would join her at a drawing class. Even though she admitted she'd always had difficulties in art classes at school, she was open-minded, eager to learn and, after a little bit of persuasion, gave it a go. It was then that she discovered her real love for creating.

“It was through these initial art classes that I quickly learned that if you are not born with a natural skill for something, but have a real passion for it nevertheless, you can nurture this passion to the point where you can indeed master almost anything.” And so she set about developing her passion for art.


Her two course instructors Kasra Kiai, one of the top 100 finalists in 2008/2009 International Art Renewal Center Salon, and Mehrdad Jamshidi, one of the top 10 artists in 5th Tehran international cartoon biennale, were her first real artistic inspirations. “They are wonderful artists and they inspired me so much.” After just a year, with the body of work she was already producing, Elham was told that she was ready to start teaching. “I felt a great sense of satisfaction sharing my skills with my students and, at the same time, keeping an open mind and learn from them too, which then helped me to improve the quality and content of what I was teaching. The more my students succeeded, the more passionate I became, and therefore the more I succeeded.”

Initially her themes primarily revolved around portraits, but after studying for a while under inspirational Iranian artist and mentor Leila Khatibi, Elham moved into producing more abstract pieces of work. “I didn't know that realism was so vastly different from that of abstract painting and, at first, I found it quite hard. But I remained calm and patient and set my mind to learning, and now most of my paintings are the culmination of figurative, abstract, and realism.” Elham's work is an absorption of the natural world around her, and an emotive harnessing of her deepest feelings and convictions, combined and expressed on canvas.


It wasn't long before Elham was successfully showcasing and exhibiting her work in private galleries throughout Iran, and the positive feedback she was having, encouraged her even further. But, because of the conservative culture in Iran, she couldn't publicly showcase her figurative subjects, which therefore considerably limited exposure of much of her work to a wider and more appreciative audience. Her big break came when her sister, who lives in Vancouver, Canada, set up an exhibition for her there. “It was wonderful to be able to exhibit to people from so many different nationalities and cultures, and the feedback and comments I received, specifically on the harmony, movement, happiness, love, life and grace that my paintings portrayed, were so encouraging. To inspire me even further I felt I could absorb these new people, their thinking and their diverse environments into my work.”

From that point on, her life quickly changed; “Shortly after returning home, I decided that if I were to achieve any form of international artistic success, I had to move from Iran and explore the world.”


First Elham moved to Cyprus and, within four months, had her first exhibition at the Kyklos Art Galley. Sponsored by business entrepreneur George Leptos who opened the exhibition. He said of Elham's work: “Tonight indeed we have embarked on a journey where Persian myths and culture merge in harmony with Mediterranean light and colours.”


Eight months later she had her second solo exhibition, opened by Savas Vergas, the Mayor of Paphos who said endearingly: “... hundreds of ancient Greek scientists, artists and philosophers spread the Greek civilization in Persia, and came in touch with the Persian culture. It seems that Elham carries the merging of these two cultures. Coming to Cyprus to share her works and ideas with more people… she feels like she's home in Paphos.”


“I could see my career unfolding in front of me. I was confident my life would change.” Shortly after that Elham met her future husband and in 2013, after three years in Cyprus, they moved to Qatar, where they are now permanently based.

In April 2014 she had her first exhibition at the Qatar Foundation. Three private exhibitions followed, and then in March 2015 she exhibited at the American Embassy. She has since had three more exhibitions, with more planned for 2016.


Elham is currently working on a number of different projects: “Firstly, I am developing a theme of Persian culture in dance and my aim is to exhibit these pieces as a solo exhibition towards the end of the year. Secondly, I am working with Regency Art, owned by Hassan Al-Asmakh, on a project called 'We are the Children of Art' where a child and an artist are assigned to work together on a painting, which will then be sold through Sotheby’s at public auction, with funds raised going to a children's educational charity. Thirdly, I am painting a 5.6 meter by 3.85 meter mural at Katara Culture Village. This is a new experience with many challenges.”


Elham's career is yet to reach its peak, and she continues to learn and seize the opportunities placed before her, with the gifts and talents she has undeniably been blessed with.




Images © COPYRIGHT Elham Razani


1st Published in Arabic in T Qatar magazine, 2016

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