From Iran to Dartmouth: UMass artist holds first solo show

Feb 1, 2021

For artist Shabnam Jannesari, painting is a way to explore nostalgia and Iranian female identity from her own personal experience.

The UMass Dartmouth art student is fresh from the opening of her first solo exhibition, ‘The Carpet Grew Like a Garden,’ at Gallery 263 in Cambridge last month.

Her large, brightly colored figure paintings depict women — Jannesari herself, as well as friends and family — in warm, cozy spaces dominated by patterns from carpets and fabric.

“I can express all of my feelings by painting,” Jannesari said. “My paintings are expressions of my personal story, but they are also reflections on the life of Iranian, and suppressed, women in general.”

An Iranian artist with a BFA in painting from the University of Guilan, Iran, Jannesari is an MFA candidate at UMass Dartmouth.

“I like this area because people are intellectual and they care about art so much,” she said of her time on the South Coast.

Jannesari said her experience coming to study and work in the US has been “an advantage,” noting that she’s particularly interested to watch American history  including Black Lives Matter protests and an unprecedented political situation — unfold in front of her.

“My work invites a dialogue to reconsider assumptions about women who have been circumscribed by Islamic culture,” she said. “I find that in America, society often misunderstands Islamic religion or Persian culture.”

That’s part of the reason she wanted to display her art in the exhibit, which opened Jan. 14 and runs through Feb. 13.

“Showing my work in public gives me the opportunity to connect with others and re-tell stories of Iranian culture from a personal viewpoint,” Jannesari said, adding that it also allows her to communicate with a larger audience.

Her paintings focus on female figures who occupy an ideal, secret, and supportive space imagined by the artist, with Persian carpets adding warm colors and elaborate patterns that act as a bridge between elements.

By reinventing and creating imaginary spaces with her intense palettes, Jannesari constructs an abstracted and highly emotive world. 

“My bright, highly saturated palette is inspired by childhood memories, specifically a colorful carpet in my grandparent’s home in Iran,” she said. “I love the carpet’s warm colors and non-repetitive intricate pattern; I could stare at it forever.”

Jannesari said that although she’s worked with other media, like acrylic, watercolor and gouache, “with oil I can express myself a little more than anything else.”

And although she has found it challenging to balance painting with other responsibilities, like writing, jobhunting and applying for exhibits and residencies, she seems to be happy doing what she loves.

As for what she likes about art, Jannesari said simply, “Everything.”

To learn more about the exhibit, visit To learn more about the artist, visit her website at