We contacted Saba Sitton to ask her more questions about her journey in life and her photography. Below you will find her bio and her artist statement. You can see her work Journeys in Between and Distances Near Away in our Critic’s Pick Gallery.
Saba, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions for our audience. I enjoyed meeting you in Houston at Fotofest this past March. Can you talk a bit about “the present day Persian diaspora” for you and your family that you mention in your statement?
I think the experience of being part of a diaspora is different for each person, but I believe there are some common threads. For example, I feel that many from my parents’ generation have always hoped that one day they could return home. For me, home is more nuanced; the concept of home is somewhere between the two cultures, and the intricacies of that, is at the core of my creative work.
You talk about transitory instances where your present recalls the past. Can you speak about what that means to you?
For an immigrant or an exile, there is always some degree of longing for one’s place of origin. This sense of longing does not undermine or overwhelm one’s being. It is just a part of one’s existence. Sometimes a familiar scent, a familiar shape, or a gentle breeze on a summer’s afternoon, can recall a similar experience from the past. These transitory instances of time, while not easy to define, are moments when one’s awareness is threaded between the present and a similar moment remembered from the past. It is these transitory moments that inspire and inform much of my work.
I love the words you use to describe your work and journey. One phrase especially is the “poetics of migration” and “stories of exile”. Can you talk about this in reference to your work?
Over the years, I have come to know many who live in exile, and others who have migrated to different countries around the world. I have heard stories of hope, of loss, of struggle, of longing, and of reconciliation. We are all on a journey. Some journeys are more layered, others have great contrast. I often think of my work as visual poems, and these are the poetics that find their way into my work.
What does the flower mean to you in your photographs? It seems to me that the flower is a constant. Why flowers? Do you personally identify with the flower?
The flower has a special reverence in Persian culture. Throughout history, Persians have always prided themselves in their magnificent flower gardens. In Persian poetry, a flower symbolizes life’s beauty and fragility. A bouquet of flowers is considered a precious gift symbolizing life and renewal. In my work, a flower becomes a visual metaphor for a sense of connection with a remembered past and culture.
How do you use poetry with your work?
The poems that I use in my work are written by contemporary Persian poets. Persian culture has a strong history of poetry and celebrated poets. The culture has embraced poetry as a powerful carrier of ideas. The poetry in my work is an accompanying voice. Beyond the voice, the poems are also an integral element woven into the visual presence of the piece.
Is your use of color in your photographs deliberate. Reds are predominant in your work. I see reds holding such richness and strength. Can you talk about what the colors you use mean to you?
Color has always been an important part of my work. I often work with colors intuitively. But there are times when I use colors deliberately. For example, in my work, I often reference colors that are revered by the Persian culture like certain shades of blue, turquoise, and yellow. Intuitively, I am drawn to certain colors, like the color red. These colors, in all their variations, embody certain expressive qualities that I am looking for in my work.
Can you tell us about Ten by Ten: Ten Reviewers Select Ten Portfolios from the Meeting Place 2018, FotoFest 2020 Biennial as so many of us missed it due to the pandemic.
The Ten by Ten exhibition showcased the work of ten artists whose work was selected by ten international reviewers from the FotoFest 2018 Meeting Place. The selected work was very diverse and displayed a richness of ideas and approaches. My series, Journeys in-Between, was one of the selected portfolios. The exhibition was well received by the community and it was an honor to have been a part of it. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the exhibition closed early. I believe FotoFest is planning to reopen the exhibition at a later date when it will be safe to open it to the public.
What work are you thinking about doing now?
I am always photographing life around me. I often explore new locations in search of images that embody a quality of expression that I am after. I work with these photographs, along with poems, and other materials to create my work. Today, the pandemic has changed so much of our everyday experiences. I am exploring new ways to produce my work with an awareness of today’s challenges.
Is there something I haven’t asked you that you would like to talk about for our audience?
I hope this interview will help reveal additional insights into my work. I want to thank you for this opportunity to discuss my work with you and with your audience.
My work explores the transitory instances of time when one’s awareness is threaded between the present and a similar moment remembered from the past. At times, these threaded moments have hard juxtapositions due to differences from the change of context, the passage of time, or a change of place. Other times, they blend and fuse a sense of continuity that are more fluid and often share a moment of contemplation. Oftentimes my work is a reflection on the poetics of migration and the stories of exile. As an Iranian-American artist, my work is informed by idealized landscapes and intricate designs of early Persian art. Persian miniature paintings are adorned with intricate depictions of flowers, plants, and tightly woven patterns of imaginary gardens. In Persian poetry, a flower often symbolizes a fleeting moment, a poetic remembrance
of life’s transience and fragility. In my work, a flower becomes a visual metaphor for a sense of connection with a remembered past. I often include poems in my work. These poems become an accompanying voice within the work. Sometimes the poems echo a sense of hope or longing, other times they evoke a sense of disorientation or doubt, as might be felt by an immigrant or an exile, on a life’s journey, of being in-between.
Saba Sitton is part of the present day Persian diaspora. Her work explores transitory instances of time, either shared or solitary, visceral or recalled. Originally from Tehran, and having lived in Asia, Europe and the United States, Saba has firsthand experience living between cultures, languages, and traditions. Her work is often influenced by Persian art and literature as experienced and shared in a modern multicultural society. Saba studied art and design at the California Institute of the Arts and the University of Oregon where she received her MFA. She
has worked on art and design commissions, and has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions. Most recently, Saba’s work was on exhibit at the Ten by Ten: Ten Reviewers Select Ten Portfolios from the Meeting Place 2018, FotoFest 2020 Biennial, and will be a part of the upcoming exhibition The Blue Planet, at H2 – Center for Contemporary Art, Glass palace, Kunstsammlungen und Museen, Augsburg, Germany. Saba lives in the United States and spends her time between California and Texas.