Born in Iran, lives in the United States, and works in between
Multidisciplinary Artist and Educator
Assistant Professor in Ceramics at Vanderbilt University
Raheleh is a collector of soil and sound, an itinerant artist, feminist curator, and community service advocate. Her work synthesizes socio-political statements as a point of departure and further challenges these fundamental arguments by incorporating ancient and contemporary media such as ceramics, poetry, ambient sound, and video. Her interdisciplinary practices act as interplay between the literal and figurative contexts of land, ownership, immigration, and border.
Her work has been shown individually and collaboratively both in Iran and the United States, including the recent interactive multimedia solo exhibitions Inh(a/i)bited, an interactive multimedia installation in Spinello Project Gallery in Miami (2020), and The Overview Effect, an interactive Multimedia Installation in Betty Foy Sanders Gallery at Georgia Southern University (2019). Filsoofi’s ‘Imagined Boundaries’, a multimedia digital installation on border issues, consisting of two separate exhibitions, debuted concurrently in a solo exhibition at the Abad Art Gallery in Tehran and group exhibition (‘Dual Frequency’) at The Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, Florida in 2017. The installations in each country connected audiences in the U.S. and Iran for few hours in the nights of the show openings. Her multifaceted curatorial project ‘Fold: Art, Metaphor and Practice’, which engaged over 20 artists, scholars, and educators in exhibitions, performances, and lectures over a period of one year in Edinburg and McAllen, Texas, has been a milestone in her professional career.
She has been the recipient of grants and awards, including the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship for Visual and Media Artists funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. She is an Assistant Professor of Ceramics in the Department of Art at Vanderbilt University. She holds an M.F.A. in Fine Arts from Florida Atlantic University and a B.F.A. in Ceramics from Al-Zahra University in Tehran, Iran.
Raheleh Filsoofi has realized the dynamic potential of her discipline in contributing to dialogues of engagement, community building, and inclusiveness. Her work exists in multiple social and cultural contexts and unfolds itself in research, creative pedagogy, feminist curatorial projects, and community service as noted below.
As a multi-disciplinary multi-cultural artist, her ideas and experiences inevitably coalesce into the reality of social practice. The aftermath of the 2016 election and the hegemony of the Trump administration over the nation, led her practice into a novel direction that addresses many different aspects of current fiasco, anxiety, psychological traumas, human conditions, and questionable social norms. They demonstrate themselves in various sorts of artistic expressions in her artworks; through poetry, stanzas, and millenniums of Middle Eastern art and history. This parallel incorporation of various forms of art simultaneously strengthens and interrupts the viewer’s point of view and common socio-political commentary, while challenging them far beyond the enforced three-dimensional so-called reality.
Raheleh utilizes different aesthetic strategies by incorporating and experimenting with materials with wide ranges of relevant applications to her subject matter. Multimedia provides multilayers of perception and interpretation, while each medium plays its own separate role in expression. Clay is the nexus from which all of her ideas emanate. It is cryptic, architectural, and can provide the space where sound, video, and light stored to create holistic sensory experiences. Clay establishes various spaces; actual and conceptual, private and public, inclusive and exclusive, and defines all types of boundaries that one must dare to cross.
Alternative Resource System
Presently Raheleh processes her own clay from various locations around the United States to create artwork. The labor-intensive and time-consuming activity has been an ongoing project since 2019 and has included over 25 locations in the United States, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley border region, Chautauqua, New York, and Miami, Florida. Her recent move to Tennessee coupled with changes wrought by COVID 19, slowed the development of this project. However, during the past months, she has begun exploring new conceptual possibilities for finding sources of clay in both a literal and a spiritual sense in her new home in Nashville. Using clay from different environments is a tactile approach to understanding the identity and visual culture of a place. She investigates the relationship of soil and clay to ecology and the diverse collective stories of indigenous peoples’ and immigrants’ awareness of natural resources. The process of isolation and purification of clay in the production of ceramic vessels has its roots in the practice of indigenous artists. However, for Raheleh, clay processing and production is a method for understanding a locale and its history while navigating and assessing her own place as a traveler, as an immigrant, within such an environment.
Multimedia and Multisensory: I Sing the Body
Raheleh’s research and practice during the past few years have been about the human condition from a personal and social perspective. The theme of borders, immigration, and cultural communication has been the core of her practice. The pandemic and the global experience during the past year have shifted her attention to the importance of the body in crisis, in conflict. How can we cross boundaries and promote social and cultural communication, if our body fails us? Today isolation and self-protection often seem to be the only options that bring hope for the future. In this project, nine individual works merge to address the body in terms of epidemics and crises: the coronavirus, racial injustice, social inequity, immigrant incarceration, and ecological collapse. The various components of this project employ media such as ceramic objects, performances, and video and sound. Clay as material, process, concept, and metaphor remain at the center of each one.
Listening: The Fourth String
Currently, Raheleh is working on the technical development of the project Listening: The Fourth String which conceptualizes listening and examines the listening experience as a means for societal change. It is a collaborative effort between an artist and a musician Reza Filsoofi for a multi-media installation and performance, inspired by the life of Moshtagh Ali Shah (D. 1206 Hijri). This project is scheduled for a two-person exhibition in February 2022, at the New Gallery at the Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Women Potters of Iran
Since 2012, Raheleh has explored aspects of ceramic production by women, especially Iranian women as they appear in traditional, rural, and contemporary urban contexts. Women ceramic artists play a surprisingly varied number of roles in the creation of functional items and artwork in clay. Case studies from the region of Gilan and Azerbaijan in northern Iran demonstrate how women actively control their own workshops and are integrated into thriving local economies. While some women focus on utilitarian products for storage and cooking, there are some whose creations are of a purely aesthetic nature. Currently, Raheleh is reviewing her interviews and communications of women she met during her research visits in various locations in Iran. A summary of her research will be presented in a lecture/video for the upcoming Women Working with Clay Symposium in June 2021, and further analyzed in a chapter of a book to be published in the fall of 2022.
Taking a multidisciplinary approach to her curatorial practice, Raheleh creates a space for women and non-binary artists and scholars to discuss their work, interests, and strengths in relation to social and political structures, cultural expectations, gender, and identity. Her exhibitions expand the framework of feminine solidarity, showcasing the unbounded potential of space and media to reveal connections between the creative process, diversity, and shared knowledge.
Projects such as “Fold: Art, Practice and Metaphor,” and the upcoming “Uncovered Spaces,” push the limits of visual manifestation, addressing the customs that mediate everyday experiences through art, research, and performance. The exhibitions, along with their speakers and panel discussions, also provide a unique opportunity to engage with the many voices and perspectives of notable, contemporary, artists - ultimately building bridges between concepts, cultures, and communities.
Her newest project, “Reinterpreted/Reimagined”, brings together women artists and historians to reenvasion ceramic objects as vehicles for imagination, ideology, and action through form, function, and aesthetics. As the world turns to more innovative possibilities, objects of the past can inspire new dialogues between materials and practices that exist within our present context.
Education is a crucial platform for implementing change. As a teacher, Raheleh designs projects very carefully focusing on intention, purpose, and community building. She has worked with undergraduate and graduate students as well as with artists at the School of Art’s Summer Residency at Chautauqua since 2019. One example of a project is An Alternative Resource System, which stems from her professional work and research on using natural resources in the creation of her artworks. In this project, the intention was to find the source for clay and explore the relation of ceramics to the land. The purpose was to collaborate to produce clay and use it to create a large social sculpture. The community building evolved through performance and body movement raising students’ awareness of individual and social bodies in the creative process. All of her student-focused projects incorporate these components.
From August 2016 to July 2020, Raheleh involving artists and students in the Rio Grande Valley Region in South Texas in over twenty collaborative projects which promoted dialog between artists and the community. Artists and students would give demonstrations to the public to share their passion for clay in an atmosphere that brought members of the community together. During her three years at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, her students participated in the annual Empty Bowls event in collaboration with the local food bank. Empty Bowls is an international project that brings artists and communities together to raise awareness and funds to fight hunger. Under her direction and with her students’ assistance, over 1500 ceramic bowls were prepared for the events. The fundraiser attracts almost a thousand visitors every year. This event is the Rio Grande Valley’s Food Bank’s largest fundraiser of the year and includes donations from 40 of the best restaurants in the Valley. The fundraiser attracts almost a thousand visitors every year. Her students’ participation highlighted the significant potential of art’s impact on community engagement.