A Love of Pattern Drives the Iranian-Born Artist’s Work, from Textiles to Public Art to Tilework Celebrating Women
“So, you make clothes, right?” is a question that fiber artist Nazanin Amiri Meers is accustomed to hearing.
And the answer is always the same.
“No,” she says, with a hint of patient bemusement. “I don’t even know how to sew. I design prints or patterns that go on the textile — upholstery, clothing, sheets, wallpaper — anything with a surface that needs a pattern.”
Raised in Iran, where censorship of the arts remains a reality to this day, Amiri Meers studied textile design in Tehran and Malaysia. Wishing to acquire more hands-on skills, she investigated Ph.D. programs before deciding to pursue a different path when she “realized most of the Ph.D. work is theoretical.” In 2014, she immigrated to the United States, ultimately completing an MFA degree in Fiber Arts at the University of Kansas.
It was during her time in Lawrence that Amiri Meers gained new experience both making and teaching, two aspects of being an artist that she most adores. She recalls how the anxiety she first felt about teaching textile design at KU evolved into excitement. She found it especially inspiring to work with students who weren’t art majors. “They took this one course and became really invested. I was witnessing how art was transforming their lives. It was really precious.”
After completing her degree, Amiri Meers continued to serve the KU community as an adjunct instructor and taught at the Lawrence Art Center. She described her mission at the latter institution as akin to breaking an invisible barrier. “Students would go to LAC and wouldn’t even go into the gallery; they crept around like it was this holy ground.” Making the universe of art accessible to everyone — even people who aren’t artists, curators or critics — is a calling that continues to motivate Amiri Meers.
In addition to teaching and putting on local shows at the Johnson County Library in Overland Park and the Lawrence Art Center, Amiri Meers has exhibited her work in places as far-ranging as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Mashhad, Iran; and Portland, Oregon.
One of her most recent projects — creating a public outdoor installation for Kansas City’s Art in the Loop program — was almost disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. As it did for so many other people, the public health crisis posed a threat to Amiri Meers’ livelihood and creative output. “When the pandemic hit, I had three exhibitions about to open and classes to teach, and all of them got cancelled,” she said. “I couldn’t practice or do any shows or anything in public.” As an artist, she was particularly concerned about the long-term impact the pandemic might have on public support for cultural initiatives. “What if art dies altogether? People won’t want to spend money on art for a good while if they can’t even pay their rent.” Fortunately, Kansas City’s arts community proved once again that it was innovative and resilient, and Art in the Loop was able to press forward with outdoor socially distant programming.
Tapping into her interest in architecture, Amiri Meers sought to create a space for privacy and refuge in what is typically a public environment — a streetcar stop outside the Kauffman Center. As she worked eight hours a day adorning the glass panels with detailed patterns, she found that passers-by took great interest in her labors. “Everyone and anyone would pass by, and talking would make them happy. That was a really positive experience. It boosted my energy.” Her involvement with public art was so invigorating that she hopes to create additional outdoor installations in the future.
Although Amiri Meers recently moved to California for personal reasons, she retains a deep fondness for Kansas City and its fellowship of artists. From the unique buildings to the myriad non-profit groups that promote art and artists, she observes that “Kansas City is a very special town, and I miss a lot about it.”
Despite the change of scenery, Amiri Meers remains dedicated to making art that truly is for everyone. Her current project involves new interpretations of historical tilework from the Middle East. Traditionally, it was forbidden for tile artists to illustrate human figures, but over time the prohibition was ignored. Nonetheless, Amiri Meers explains that it was almost always men who created female forms on the tiles, and they were depicted only in submissive, domestic roles. Seeking to give voice to the women who have been marginalized and silenced throughout history, she is creating a coloring book that portrays these long-forgotten women in their normal lives doing normal things.
“These women existed. They were living their lives, and they were being something. But their stories were never told. They were just portrayed a certain way. My mission is to just give voice to women of color who . . . were trapped in this unimportant corner of art, and their voices weren’t heard.”