Born and raised in Iran, Shirin Abedinirad’s first art piece she ever created was an illustration of her hometown of Tabriz. Quickly mastering the mediums of pencil and paint, her parents encouraged her to pursue her passion and took her to local parks where she painted and entered her work into painting competitions.
“I always got first place and my parents would mail my paintings to international contests,” she said. “I think they led me to art; they really paid attention to what I was good at.”
From these humble beginnings, Abedinirad began her artistic career. She has since established herself as a celebrated visual artist with a growing portfolio of installation, performance, and video projects and is well-known for her public art displays that have been featured in festivals and galleries around the world.
Looking to expand her artistic skills and knowledge, Abedinirad enrolled at Michigan State University in 2021 to pursue a Master of Fine Arts offered by the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.
“The support I am receiving from my professors, committee, and chairperson is very generous and surprising to me,” she said. “I am not hearing ‘no, it is not possible,’ or ‘you can’t’ anymore, and I believe this is the most important thing for an art student.”
Abedinirad currently is in her second year of the MFA program, which has taught her more about a variety of subjects such as digital, public, and queer art and has inspired her to actively develop new ideas in the field of bio art.
“During my MFA education, I have received comprehensive support from the university, my professors, and my committee,” she said. “This has allowed me to balance my studies with other projects outside the university and receive valuable feedback from my committee to aid in my progress. I consider this to be a unique opportunity, and I am grateful for the support and guidance provided throughout my education.”
“During my MFA education, I have received comprehensive support from the university, my professors, and my committee…I consider this to be a unique opportunity, and I am grateful for the support and guidance provided throughout my education.”
Since she began the MFA program, Abedinirad has exhibited three major international projects in Dubai, Turkey, and China. She is best known for her mirror installations that present optical illusions and reflect the natural beauty of their locations.
While nature has remained her most central muse, Abedinirad also has integrated elements of gender, politics, and sexuality into her work. When widespread protests broke out in her country in Fall 2022 following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody after being arrested by morality police for wearing an improper hajib, Abedinirad turned to her art to express herself and to show support for the protestors.
During these protests, women removed and burned their hajibs and chanted “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Some protestors cut their hair. And, in a show of solidarity with the women in Iran, protesters gathered in several cities around the world.
Abedinirad’s Woman Hair Freedom mixed media installation, created to honor Amini, debuted in November 2022 at MSU’s Kresge Art Center Gallery.
“After the tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the subsequent protests calling for ‘Woman Life Freedom’ in Iran, I felt a profound sense of emptiness that I wanted to express through my art and share with my audience,” Abedinirad said. “My exhibition, Woman Hair Freedom, sheds light on the various forms of restrictions and discrimination that Iranian women face throughout their lives, which limit their autonomy and opportunities. This exhibition is about Iranian women identity in current time.”
The Woman Hair Freedom installation also was displayed at the MSU Broad Art Museum in January as part of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” event to help raise awareness about the fight for women’s rights in Iran. The event was organized by Parisa Ghaderi, Assistant Professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design.
Abedinirad’s first formal art education was in high school when she studied graphic design. She later earned an Associate Degree in Graphic Design and Painting and went on to explore Fashion and Textile Design at Dr. Shariaty Technical College in Tehran, Iran.
“While studying fashion, I became familiar with conceptual art by participating in national and international workshops and residencies,” she said, “and from that point, I stepped towards a new path I felt the wind was carrying me into.”
It was then, in late spring 2013, that Abedinirad debuted Narcissus, her first outdoor installation, after being deeply inspired by the famous mythological story and posing the question, “Is nature aware of its own beauty?” The installation consisted of large, round mirrors masterfully placed on the sand hills of Iran’s Central Desert to reflect exquisite images of the setting and sky.
“Looking at the sky, sitting under a shadow of a tree and watching the leaves’ shadows move over the grass, watching the reflections of the sky in a puddle or lake, and the sound of the wind are all inspiring to me,” Abedinirad said.
“Each artwork is a part of me, so as I evolve, they grow and change as I do. I work on myself and take care of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors because I believe they influence my art. I want my art to be poetic and pure, like a mirror.”
In October 2015, she produced her favorite project of her career thus far, titled Babel Tower, a modern interpretation of the Tower of Babel. For this piece, she collaborated with Italian interactive designer Guglielmo Torelli to build an outdoor installation in the barren mountains of Tehran, Iran. Featuring a gleaming, tiered glass tower sculpture, the piece incorporated technology that sensed human movement and weather patterns to shift its angles accordingly.
“Each artwork is a part of me, so as I evolve, they grow and change as I do,” Abedinirad said. “I work on myself and take care of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors because I believe they influence my art. I want my art to be poetic and pure, like a mirror.”
Later this year, Abedinirad’s work will be exhibited at two international art festivals. One of her installation pieces will be featured at the Oku Noto Triennale, which runs September 2-October 22, 2023, in venues around Suzu, Japan. And, her Heaven on Earth installation will be part of the Lumiere Festival in Durham, United Kingdom, November 16-19, 2023.
“I look forward to showcasing my work in these two prestigious international events,” Abedinirad said.
During her time at MSU, she not only is working to advance her art Abedinirad also is looking to have an impact on the next generation of artists.
“I want to teach and hold workshops for younger generations, and Michigan State University offers teaching assistant programs for MFA students, which is a great opportunity for me to learn about teaching,” she said. “There are many things to learn. I hope I will have enough time to learn it all.”
Abedinirad is on track to complete her MFA in May 2024 and is looking forward to using her MSU education to begin her teaching career.
“I am eager to pursue my passion for teaching sculpture and 3D art at the university level after graduation,” she said. “Additionally, I plan to continue creating my own artworks independently and showcasing them at festivals and biennales around the world. I am excited to take on these new opportunities and contribute to the art world in multiple ways.”
Written by Kseniya Lukiy and Kim Popiolek