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Sudi Dargipour: Modern Designs, Traditional Twist

Textile, Visual Arts

Tell me what is it that you do at Dilana?

I translate artists’ work into the world of floor coverings – it’s not a familiar process for most artists.

Why is that?

They need to make sure that their work translates to a floor covering and it’s also very hard to give your work to someone else to translate. But in my experience, once they see the rug, they’re very happy! It’s a different medium but still their work.

You also work on the commercial side at Dilana?

Yes, and that’s about working with architects and designing carpet for Civic buildings like the Aotea Centre in Auckland. I’m working on the Wellington Town Hall at the moment.  The architects will brief me and I come up with a couple of concepts and we work with that.

How do you come up with a concept for a whole carpet – you have to really understand what they’re wanting to articulate? How do you even begin to do that?

It depends. For heritage buildings, I study the period they were built in, and then I study which motifs work for that time period. Sometimes, you have a heritage building, but the community wants something bright, something that is cheerful and modern therefore I have to go through the colour and history and find out which colour works. So yes, it depends on which motif works and sometimes I actually have to design a new, but still sympathetic, motif. For instance the Aotea Centre project, the brief was the importance of community, in a multicultural city like Auckland and how we can work together. It all started with dots and lines and that was the main design element. Over 400m2 of floor space has been designed without repeat or duplication. Every mark represents an individual as part of a greater whole, any tree or stone one of us in this imagined world.

That’s amazing! How much does colour influence your work?

Colour is very important to me. In New Zealand, for some reason, people don’t seem to like colour! They’re scared of colour, it seems. I try to push colour in all my projects. I might suggest a tiny bit of red to a client, but sometimes the clients are very strict – “No Colour! Grey. Grey, Grey!”

Why do you think we like grey and black and beige so much here?

In my opinion, decorating your home in these colours is easy because no one can judge you!

But you’d like to see more colour used here?

Yes, I believe that colour is very helpful for our mental health and wellbeing.

One reason for the busy times at Dilana during the first lockdown was that people realised they didn’t have any colour around them, so they wanted to bring some in. They needed something to bring some light.

So tell me about your background…

I studied fine art in Iran and after two years I changed my subject to handcrafts, rugs and carpets. Then I got my master’s in psychology and moved to New Zealand – to study at the university – but it was after the earthquake, so I decided to work, which led me to my post at Dilana. I believe I made a good decision, I enjoy working with artists and learn from them every day.

What was it that started your interest in rugs?

In my family I’m the only one who studied art. My father couldn’t believe it. When I was at university I realised that through art I can find out more about myself, I can be more helpful, I can find things in a life that I’d never noticed and I especially liked rugs – because of the stories they hold.

Persian rugs hold the tales of people in different eras and throughout history, just through their motifs. I got involved in a lot of workshops, and they were all led by women, which I loved. There was a very feminist approach, and it was fascinating to have this story told in the form of a secret language through rugs.

So rug making tends to be the domain of women?

In Iran and Afghanistan, yes. But as you move more towards Turkey, men are more involved. The majority of rug making though is women – from dyeing, to finishing, to selling.

Is that the same for other handicrafts? Say like ceramics?

Ceramics when it comes to making the forms is more male dominated, but when it comes to decorating those forms, that tends to be women.

So when you came to New Zealand did you come directly to Christchurch? Was it a culture shock for you?

Certainly. It was a massive culture shock for at least five years. The art world here didn’t feel quite welcoming, which made working in the arts challenging. I felt like outsiders weren’t instantly trusted in a conservative environment. Everyone has their own circle of friends and it can be hard to break into it.

How do you find Christchurch for your own creativity? Do you draw any inspiration from being here?

Yes. A great thing about Christchurch is that it’s a four-season city.

Secondly, because of cultural differences, I had to get close to people to see how they worked and lived. This forced me out of my comfort zone as an introvert, and I think this is the first step in being creative.

Did it help doing the artists collaborations at Dilana?

Yes, from the time I started working with Reuben Patterson – he introduced me to Te Ao Māori and showed me a lot of different motifs and elements. I’ve noticed many similarities between Toi Māori and both Iranian and Islamic design. Our visual languages and forms are similar.  It was a big deal for me as I thought: “Well, you have your own identity as an Iranian, but you’re in a country where they have a similar art and motif, feels like home”

Are the colours similar as well?

No, I think colour is more specific to the culture. In Iran, we try to not use black, but we use red. We use blue a lot because it’s a holy colour.

Tell me more about the collaboration with Reuben Patterson.

It was amazing. I was working on his design ( Ko Te Aroha Anō )with him and I really didn’t know a lot about Te Ao Māori at that point, but I have a habit of asking a lot of questions and eventually he said – ‘Okay. We need to FaceTime and I’ll explain everything to you.’ And he did. That 6 months was like a full course!

What about your own designs? Do they feature in the rugs?

Yes I have my own designs and I try to give the Iranian identity a more contemporary feel. I have six or seven designs.  But I really enjoy working with other artists. I like to investigate different methods of making rugs with artists.  With Reuben I did a burning method – and that was a huge thing – no one knew if you could do that! The same with the shiny glitter – no one knew whether we could do that either. So really, at the moment I get more enjoyment on working with other artists rather than my own designs.

When you’re designing the rugs – is there some trial and error?

Definitely. We start with the concept, and then I figure out what method of making the rug will work. I then get a sample made. Then we usually make some changes – and there’s a lot of talking at that point!

They are amazing rugs. I remember Dilana had a gallery at the Arts Centre when I was young and I’d go in there and just stare at these rugs and they really were like art.

They are art works. But they exist on the floor. It’s actually great to see an artwork on a floor and enjoy it. That’s the purpose of a rug. The rug can live with you for generations. Rugs eventually show their age but that’s part of the story.

What other art forms do you yourself do?

I do lots of Islamic geometric painting and illumination. I used to weave a lot. In terms of drawing, I’m teaching Islamic geometric design in the Muslim community – people are more interested now in learning more about this. I also do calligraphy as well – but I’m not a master – and for calligraphy you should be a master!


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