Upon meeting Sara Shamsavari, one can tell that fear isn’t often an emotion she publically conveys.
Confident but kind, her demeanor holds a strength and wisdom seen through the fearless work she creates. A multidisciplinary artist, Sara was born in Iran in the midst of the Islamic Revolution, fleeing the country before settling in London. Her emotive, thought-provoking work is anything but conforming, and has been exhibited at locations worldwide including New York, Paris and Hong Kong.
Sara’s images often challenge ethnic and social identity, stereotypes and associations. Her series, London Veil, a powerful collection capturing young Muslim hijab-wearers, is currently showing in London.

We were lucky enough to catch up with her in the run up to International Womens Day..

The hijab and Muslim women are key components of London Veil, how and why did you choose these as your focus?

The series came together organically as I began photographing women I knew and saw every day. All of my work somehow looks at challenging one-dimensional preconceived ideas held by society. The work was produced in alignment with the values that each one of us is important, not just those who are celebrated on mass; it aims to encourage people to engage and make their own judgements instead of readily accepting those presented.

Tell us about London Veil, what does it mean to you personally?

I saw a huge disparity between the image I would see projected of (Muslim) women on mass media and the women I knew personally. I believe that each of us should have the choice in how we express ourselves.  Particularly at a time where the image of women who veil is so maligned and misrepresented in the west, it is of even greater importance that a project like this is created and given prominence.

London’s Women of the World (WOW) festival is a highly anticipated and internationally renowned event. London Veil was shown at the festival this year, what was that like?

Its so important and also wonderful that a project like this showed as part of WOW, as it celebrates the voices and accomplishments of women all over the world. It is crucial that the veiled Muslim woman is included and represented in the feminist conversation.

Considering recent events such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, this is a timely and topical exhibition. London Veil will feature in Paris, do you anticipate a negative response?

It will be interesting and perhaps controversial. I am a great fan of Paris and many of those I know in the cultural industries have a deep understanding of art and human rights. However it is sad that deep prejudices still exist there towards those with a different skin colour or religion, particularly Muslims. I don’t believe it is fair to force a woman to wear a hijab, and in the same breath I don’t think its fair to insist they remove it. The emphasis must be on the choice of the individual.

Much of your work challenges culture and ethnicity, encouraging a different perspective. You are British with Iranian heritage, how does this inspire your work?

I think anybody who comes from one culture and is raised in another has some sense of displacement, and we live in a world that is sadly still full of prejudice. I have always been conscious of how I and other people are treated simply because of what appears on the surface. The values I have been raised with (having a mother who is Baha’i) have been a strong influence. I have a world view that we all deserve to be treated as human, we all deserve a voice and this partly inspires the work.
I am also inspired by the idea of transformation. There is a space between what happens to us and how we respond. The women in the Veil series beautifully illustrate how a person can respond to challenges and prejudice by shining brightly.

What advice would you give aspiring artists?

With regard to art, I believe the best art reflects on and challenges its environment and its time. As artists we hold a great responsibility, and this should be taken into consideration. Regardless of what it is you want to achieve, finding a way of doing it regularly is the way to go. Dont wait for opportunities, make opportunities and more will come.

Showing your creations to the world requires courage but also vulnerability. How do you find this?

Courage is more important than confidence. Not everybody may like what you do, but it is my experience that those that criticise the most, produce and contribute the least. It is more important for me to contribute, and that what I contribute is aligned with my values. Our societies can become a greater place if those who are different come together, and take a synergistic approach. I hope to bring people together to understand each other beyond categories and as human beings.



London Veil is showing at Royal Festival Hall (Southbank Centre, London) until March 29th 2015.
International exhibitions at the following dates & locations:

Britain Retold – a Portrait of London – Tricycle Theatre, London. Feb 19th – March 29th 2015
The Dandy Lion project – Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. April 9th – July 2nd 2015
Significations in association with Black Portraitures – Florence from the 28th May 2015