Exploring a Personal, Political and Psychological
History through Printmaking

by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero, October , 2007

An artist with boundless energy, Pantea Karimi is a graduate student at SJSU, working on her second master’s degree. Karimi began her life as an artist in adverse times in Iran. She says, “Growing up in Iran, during the tense time of revolution, then the Iran-Iraq War, with hardships and limitations, never made me think that I was not able to achieve my goals”

“My father is an architect coming from an art-loving family, where careers like traditional fabric and kilim design were practiced, and my mother is a retired history & geography teacher. Since my sister and I spent most of our time drawing and painting when we were kids, my parents encouraged us to practice art in a professional environment. In 1985 at age 13, I joined an art class in Tehran whose Iranian teacher was educated in Italy in classical European painting and sculpting. For four years, I copied classical masterpieces as well as creating my own images, being inspired by Kandinsky, Picasso and Matisse. Four years of training changed me as a young person and in the process of learning and practicing disciplined art, I came to conclusion that I wanted to pursue a professional career in art. My sister and I also had this privilege to learn classical guitar when we were teenagers despite the fact that it was difficult to find classical instruments in the market in the years of Iran-Iraq war.”


Pantea Karimi inks the silk screen in the San Jose State screenprinting studio

Karimi earned a Master of Graphic Design degree at University of Art in Tehran, and worked as a graphic designer for several graphics companies before moving to England. Expanding her experience and credits in the world of fine art, she earned a BTEC Diploma in Printmaking at Hastings College of Arts and Technology in England, in 2004. While in England she worked as a studio assistant to Alan Rankle, the renowned English Landscape painter. In the United States, she designed the fall issue of Thresholds, vol.32: Access, a bi-annual journal of architecture, art and media, published by the department of architecture at MIT. Karimi continues to work in the fine arts, graphic design, and children’s art education. She has exhibited her art in England, the United States and Iran where she garners significant media attention in television and newspapers.

Upon arriving in the Bay Area, she knew she wanted to enroll in a MFA program in printmaking. Although accepted at another school, she chose San Jose State University’s program because of its printmaking facilities and especially the well equipped screen-printing facilities.


Pantea Karimi retouches the silk screen, preparing to print.

With the perspective afforded by time and world travel, Karimi returns to her history as a young woman in Iran before the deposition of the Shah in 1979, as thesis material. She explores what can be known of that time through the archives of Iranian newspapers at Princeton University and UC, Berkeley. She indulges her love of graphics and graphic processes, and utilizes the graphic qualities of screenprinting to mesh images of herself with images from historic print publications and old newspapers. Although she ostensibly is looking for images to appropriate, she confesses to being drawn into the articles, as well, reliving the events and ambiance of her early years.


Karimi’s artistocratic Qaajar Woman of the 19th Century witnessed the arrival of Western china, cinema and classical painting in Iran. The wheels represent travel, cultural change, and industrialization.

Karimi has spent a good deal of time as an undergradute and graduate student in the comparative study of Western architecture and art history, and the history of Iranian traditional arts, crafts and architecture. Now a resident of the West, Karimi reflects on the Westernization of Iran under the Shah, particularly as witnessed in the commercialization of women’s images. Karimi notes that lithography arrived in Iran in the 19th century. By the mid 20th Century, Iran was anxious to appear modern, successful and competitive with the West.


Pantea Karimi’s screenprint The Vertical Harem: Aristocratic 19th Century women who lived in opulent and ornately decorated Qaajar palaces. Saplings and new shoots symbolize new beginnings, exposure to new cultural experiences, relearning life.

The Shah, in Karimi’s opinion, was naive to think that Iran should or could be like the West, and failed to anticipate the implications of this direction at home. “It was actually fake westernization, not modernization,” she observes. “The people did not grasp what was happening.‚Äù


In From Salvation to Self-Realization Karimi addresses her selves as an audience, making observations on difficulty and preserverance.

After WWII, the images of women were used to sell merchandise and generate consumerism throughout the West. Western advertising and female models, also found their way to Iran and became vehicles for the promotion of sensuality and a material lifestyle. They were contrary to the realities of life in Iran at that time. Courting a Western appearance, innocently and superficially, a few women imitated what they saw in western films and advertising.


In the Life is Only a Bird, series of screenprints by Pantea Karimi, she is a contemporary non-conformist angel accompanied by a small Persian angel who may be her guardian as she travels through several cultural dimensions.

She acknowledges that the journey from one place to the other has been a life-altering experience. For all the contrasts in Karimi’s personal history and life situations, her art is a harmonic play of shapes, seductive colors and photographic images that she often manipulates digitally until they became semi-abstracted. The images are then translated into photo stencils on the silkscreen that allows her to play with size, different color relationships and compositions. Karimi’s colors are thoughtful and carefully mixed. Her own image may appear in the prints, but the viewer will not necessarily recognize her. Frequently, a prominent female figure in her prints tells us that this is a female narrative. The impression is sometimes playful, sometimes nostalgic, and always hints at her own search for her real and metaphorical place in history.

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