- by Alexander Joseph Kinzel
ILLUSTRATIONS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
It has long been said that parody and satire have the ability to speak deeper truths than forms that are tasked too heavily with being realistic or serious. Through her cartoons, caricatures and animations of Iranian life, Elham is able to bring humor into a system and a society that often sees anything of the sort as a threat. When asked as a child, what she wanted to be, Elham Azar, replied “a painter or an inventor!” and despite all the obstacles she had to overcome in Tabriz, her Iranian home town, she managed to realize this lifelong dream through her art. Her vibrant cartoons depict artistic renditions of topics such a social justice issues, the black and white mentality of her home government and the global refugee crisis. Through her art Elham does exactly what she has always set out to do; she invents a world and a language in which to communicate things she would otherwise be unable to.
To be an artist in Iran is to put your life on the line, and while this may stop some, Elham was only inspired by the challenge of continuing to create in these conditions. In her early years, she started with painting which eventually translated into cartoons and caricatures when she was a teenager. Elham began to immerse herself in cartoon and caricature magazines and managed to maintain a cartoon column in her local newspaper for over a year when she was only 14 years old. Later on, she worked as a freelance cartoonist for a liberal newspaper, where she faced frustrations with censorship regulations and eventually was drawn towards illustration. After feeing stifled by the restrictions on and danger around her creative process in her home country, three years ago Elham moved to the United States to get her MFA in Communication Design. This gave her the chance to explore Motion Graphic Design and 2D animation. She believes motion graphics to be a perfect medium in the social media era, helping her to convey her messages in an easier, faster and more comprehensible manner. Her art has taken many forms, but with the same message: not allowing anything to deter her creativity or her drive and always moving forward with her pencil or her paintbrush in hand despite the risk, the medium or the odds.
Elham has published over 25 children’s books in Lebanon, Dubai, and Iran. She has taken part in many group and solo exhibitions worldwide, including Iran, Turkey, Dubai, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Ukraine, England, and China. Her most successful exhibition was titled “Iranian Women in the Subway”, portraying the women in the subway of Iran’s capital city, Tehran.
Starting as a child with dreams of combining inventions and painting, Elham Azar has truly become an inspiration for artists around the world through her books, illustrations, computer animation and cartoons. Like the characters in her panels, marginalized people in an oppressive state or refugees sailing across an ocean on a razor’s edge (literally), Elham embodies art as both resistance and persistence.