Art explores cultural identity and sexuality

Bildungsroman is a rather unusual title for a first solo exhibition at Uxbridge, Malcolm Smith Gallery.

Areez Katki says he likes the sound of it.

“I’ve always liked the word and really wanted to work with Bildungsroman as the format and possibly part of a working title for this exhibition.

“As a narrative trope it refers to the formation and development of identities from two perspectives,” he says.

A Bildungsroman is the  growing up or ‘coming of age’ of a sensitive person who goes in search of answers to life’s questions with the expectation that these will result in gaining experience of the world.

Areez has crossed boundaries creatively and literally as he took off on a soul-searching journey across countries researching his cultural identity and sexuality.

Areez at a fire temple in Yazd, Iran. Photo supplied

A New Zealand born Zoroastrian (one of the world’s most ancient religions) by birth, the 29-year-old artist is excited to have his first solo exhibition titled Bildungsroman–Parsi Diaspora and the consolidation of identities from February 4-March 17.

Parsis are Zoroastrians from Persia who found refuge in India during the Arab invasion of 636–651 AD.

“I wanted to research my cultural identity- the gamut of socio-economic and gender – a whole rainbow of issues,” says Areez, who graduated from the University of Auckland in art history, English literature and philosophy.

“I am willing to share my story of an immigrant with a level of cultural significance and also what it means to be a homosexual in New Zealand and in India. There have been a lot of limitations. I’ve had to struggle with being queer and a feminist,” he says.

It’s been a tumultuous journey.

The well-travelled textile artist says his identity as a queer in a conventional Parsi family has been questioned and sometimes swept under the carpet. But now there is acceptance by family and friends.

A bubbling cauldron of emotions have found a positive focus as nine months of hard labour found him meticulously find artistic expression as he hand-embroidered a range of canvases, including the egalitarian tea towels.

Hand embroidered panel. Photo supplied

A Creative NZ grant in January 2017 provided Areez an opportunity to research the visual and text-based content for his solo exhibition through pictorial elements using needlework based craft practices that were handed down to him from a series of lessons from the matriarch of the family.

Some of the evocative bead and needlework at the exhibition will showcase the spiritual practices of the Parsi community, their ritual, topography, architecture, archaeology and historic figures.

Areez even took a month off to step further back in the timeline and explore the Zoroastrian heritage sites around Iran and Azerbaijan in September.

Tapestry-beaded matriarchal fragments. Photo supplied

“Since I was a child, I’ve had a very close relationship with my grandmother. I am who I am because of the women in my life. They helped a lot in nurturing my love for handmade textiles,” he says as he gives equal credit to his mum for accepting him for who he is.

“I want people to admire the aesthetic aspect of the exhibition and question it–to engage with the work visually and look at the caption. Should they find it intriguing there will be texts to encompass the particular narrative thought.”

Bildungsroman, Areez Katki’s first solo exhibition at Uxbridge Malcolm Smith Gallery, Howick from Feb 4-March 17.

Published on Times Online