17-year-old Tuscan (Arizona) illustrator Panteha Abareshi is making work that attempts to capture the realities of living with a mental illness. Through her images she represents the struggles that come with anxiety and depression. More than that, she portrays women of colour with strength that shines beyond how they may feel at times. This strength comes from acknowledging vulnerability and confusion. Taking inspiration from the likes of Erykah Badu, films by David Lynch as well as her Iranian/Jamaican upbringing, the main driver for her journey into the art world was the time she spent in the hospital due to her being born with Sickle Cell Beta Thalassemia. She turned her frequent visits to hospital beds into metaphorical studio visits.
The knives, snakes and roses that appear to be inflicting pain on the women she draws are physical manifestations of the pain that these women are feeling.
A second foundation on which her work is built relates to her rejection of unrealistic understandings of love. “My artwork is a direct expression of my beliefs that the way young people, especially girls, are taught to value, prioritize and derive happiness from ‘love’ is damaging and wrong. I struggle with the societal standards for romance, love and sex constantly, and express that in my work because I want to normalize the notion of women/people not craving intimacy,” Abareshi explains in her artist bio.
Abareshi hosted her first solo show in New York City in April at Chinatown’s Larrie Gallery where she exhibited a series of works titled “Blessed Is The Pain”. With these works she unpacks what it was like to grow up with divorced parents who have polar opposite attitudes towards religion. “My father, who immigrated from Iran, is a steadfast atheist, and never spoke to me about religion. My mother, who immigrated from Jamaica, is a fiercely devout Christian,” she explains in her artist statement. Being forced to go to church and learn bible verses, while discovering her identity as a woman and holding reservations about Christianity, resulted in damaging interpretations of her personality. These and other experiences while she was growing up contributed towards her anxiety and depression. The works that she put together for her solo show visually represent this tumultuous time.
To check out more of Abareshi’s work visit her website.