Fin Garden, 2021

acrylic on canvas

76" x 48"


Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, 2020

acrylic on canvas

40" x 30"

The Complexity of Looking, 2020

acrylic on paper

22" x15" each

The foundation of my work is based on architectural references from my memory of my homeland of Iran and my life as an immigrant in NYC. The experiences I had visiting archaeological sites throughout Iran continue to inspire and inform my work. Since my migration to the United States, my work has evolved into a formal blending of Persian and Western architectural styles, specifically European futurism. As my approach has developed, the color palette of my paintings has progressively grown from dark and intimist tones to more colorful expressions enlivened by energetic brush strokes. These changes reflect, in part, my perspective as an immigrant New Yorker, and echo the speed, technology, and industrial landscapes of contemporary urban life – the very elements I admire in post-modern futurism.

- Zahra Nazari 

“Working from both photographs and memory, while allowing for improvisation and invention, Nazari rarely renders whole buildings in her paintings. Instead, she paints excerpts especially significant for her—a section of ceiling with its elaborate details, a particular sequence of windows or vaults, floral patterning, part of a wall—which she combines with abstract gestures and shapes, other forms resembling jumbled architectural fragments, and intermingling colors. Architecture is never static in these works, but instead unstable, changeable, often vertiginous, and under duress (the Ali Qapu Palace, incidentally, ravaged by environmental and political forces, was at one point a ransacked ruin). Construction and deconstruction share close quarters in Nazari’s work.

Many of Nazari’s abstract forms, or what Western viewers might normally think of as abstract forms, including prominent angles, jutting bands, arcs, cross-hatching, rudimentary geometric shapes, and irregular color blocks, derive more from Persian architecture than Western abstract painting. Domes, vaults, honeycombed muqarnas, arabesques, eight-pointed stars, latices, and minarets—all of these, however, transformed, are recurring motifs. Also fascinating to note is that the colors in Nazari’s distinctive palate, including various purples, soft reds, golds, tawny browns, oranges, and rich blues, are especially important and meaningful in Persian architecture, and have been for centuries. Nazari often combines multiple views of the same building, or a portion of that building, in a single painting, in a way that scrambles and shifts the viewer’s perspective; very often one is not at all sure whether one is looking up or down, at something distant or close—visual manifestations of cultural and personal disorientation.

- Gregory Volk, catalog



Zahra Nazari (b. 1985) is a New York City-based painter, sculptor, and installation artist who focuses on architectural themes in multicultural contexts. Born to a family of architecture enthusiasts in Hamedan, Iran, Nazari has built her career as a visual artist on the foundation of memories from her youth. She is deeply influenced by ancient Persian art and architecture and the landscapes in which they have historically blossomed.

One of her most recent projects, “Unification,” was a 12-gauge stainless steel sculpture that was exhibited at the High Line Nine Gallery and in the Sculpture Space Garden. The work reimagines modern Persian architecture within a Western, futurist context. The hard work of sculpting steel – a key ingredient in Europe’s industrialization – mirrors the conceptual labor of uniting disparate cultures into a single element, and reminds us of the urgent need for diverse perspectives and dialogue.

Nazari has discussed these themes and others in artist talks and on panels at a variety of institutions, including NYU, Columbia University, Cooper Union, and Pratt Institute in New York City. Her work has been reviewed and published in Artefuse, Hamptons Art Hub, Hyperallergic, Whitehot Magazine, ZH Magazine, and more.

Nazari’s work is found in private and public collections around the world, and she exhibits widely. Among other venues, Nazari’s work has been featured in shows at The Bronx Museum of the Art (New York); Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art (New Paltz, NY); High Line Nine Gallery (New York); MANA Contemporary (Jersey City, NJ); Spartanburg Art Museum (Spartanburg, South Carolina), Masur Museum of Art (Los Angeles); New York Academy of Art (New York); Denise Bibro Fine Art (New York); Illinois Institute of Art (Chicago); China Millennium Monument (Beijing, China); Lite-Haus Galerie (Berlin, Germany); Saba Institution (Tehran, Iran); and Baran Gallery (Tehran, Iran).

Nazari has also received a number of prestigious grants and fellowships, including a Creative Engagement Grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (New York); FST Studio Projects Fund (New York); the AIM Fellowship from the Bronx Museum (New York); a Visiting Artist Fellowship from MASS MoCA (North Adams, Massachusetts) and Cooper Union (New York). She has been an artist in residence at Sculpture Space (Utica, NY), and the Vermont Studio Center (Johnson, VT), among several others.

Nazari received her BFA from the School of Art & Architecture in Tabriz, Iran, and her MFA from the State University of New York in New Paltz in 2014.

Interview With the Artist:

Where in Iran did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Hamedan, one of the oldest cities in Iran. Although medium-sized, it has a rich culture and wonderful landscape with nature being so close to the city. The largest water cave in Iran is in my hometown, the city is surrounded by mountains, Alvand Peak is always in sight wherever you are in town.

How would you describe your childhood?
In some ways, I feel my childhood was lonely. My father had several children from his previous marriage, and when I was about 5 years old, my brother and I began to live with our half-sisters and brothers. The dynamic made me introverted. So, I started painting as my outlet. I spent countless hours creating.

Thankfully, I was surrounded by creative people. I would watch my mom, who would always be making something like tapestry, carpet, or a painting on glass. She is the one who sparked my imagination early on. My father, who is a collector of ancient artifacts, took me to archaeological sites and shared his interests with me. My older brother, who I always looked up to, was interested in photography and cinema. He taught me analog photography and I printed my first photographs in our own darkroom he created at home.

Do you remember your first memory of creating art?
Nearly all I can remember of childhood is making art. I remember the first thing I drew was some still life from my father's pottery collection.

How long have you lived outside of Iran?
Since 2011, so about 12 years

Do you have family there?
Yes, my entire family is still in Iran. I am the only one in my family who has been able to leave so far.

How does your Iranian Identity impact your work?
My roots are always in my work, even when not being represented in it. The way I perceive my surroundings and my process of making the work is all rooted in what I learned in the early years of my practice in Iran and the environment I grew up in.

Being raised somewhat religious, Islamic architecture was omnipresent. I also remember several visits to the archaeological site, Hegmataneh, in my hometown, which is the largest remaining of ancient times in Iran. The memories and feelings of those places are still influential.

I have love for my country, its history, people, and culture. But there's the frustration underneath those feelings – about the politics that pushed me and many others away. Those feelings of love and resentment, they're still with me and are reflected in my work by my choice of colors, composition, and brush strokes.

Does it impact the way you interact with American culture, its people, and its practices?
My partner is American so I believe I assimilated pretty well. Also, New York City is such a multicultural city that I feel right at home. But I can definitely recognize certain personality and characteristic elements of being Iranian that I wasn't so aware of until I moved here. We have this custom of Taarof, ritual politeness when there is this back and forth of polite gestures and going out of your way to please the other person. For example, when someone compliments you on something you have, you will offer it to them as a sign of respect and politeness regardless of its value or its necessity to you. It is usually known that you are being polite and no one will take on your offer. I used Taarof early on here as well and soon realized that this level of politeness in the US is over-the-top!