By Nichole Gronvold Roller

Shahrbanoo Hamzeh “Delightful Scars #1” acrylic on canvas, 25
inches by 22.25 inches, 2021.

Inland Art is a regular featured column in The Community Word newspaper. This article was first published on December 31, 2021. Used by Contemporary Art Center of Peoria with permission.

Iranian-born painter Shahrbanoo Hamzeh moved to the United States in 2018 as a graduate student and completed an MFA in Painting from Illinois State University in the spring of 2021. Since graduation, the artist has continued to expand upon a series of artworks that encompass conflicts of diaspora, an examination of the ambiguity of borders, and the complexities of the family dynamic; specifically, within a country where the Ayatollah has control, often placing little value on the rights of women and girls.

Amnesty International reports that in 2020, Iran’s discriminatory violence continues as … “authorities failed to criminalize domestic violence, marital rape, early and forced marriage and other gender-based violence against women and girls, which remained widespread.”

After moving to the United States from Iran, Hamzeh has felt a sense of calmness. “I feel more valued and appreciated here as a human, a woman, and an artist.” In questioning the painter what she misses about her homeland, Hamzeh said she misses mostly her family and “… the time I could spend with my parents, my siblings, and my nieces. My friends and different activities we could do together.

“We have a dramatically different social milieu. For example, we shake hands or hug each other every time we see each other, even if we see each other a few times a day. I miss the food. There are no Iranian restaurants in the area, and some ingredients are not easy to find here. I miss many places and streets and cities …”

Hamzeh also expressed that she did not miss “the mandatory hijab, for sure. I am enjoying that I actually can choose what to wear. I do not miss being scared of the police and the fact that I could be arrested or even killed for no reason.”

After receiving her Optional Practical Training job authorization card in October, Hamzeh accepted the position as the Gallery Coordinator at Heartland Community College. An additional change in the artist’s life was relocating her studio to North Art Studios in Peoria.

Hamzeh’s new space is full of paintings in various stages, from completed pieces to works in progress; She is preparing for her upcoming solo exhibition “Home Sweet Home” at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria. Intermingled with Hamzeh’s paintings are printed copies of artist inspirations: Marlene Dumas, Tomoo Gokita, Jennifer Packer, and Maja Ruznic. Hamzeh spoke excitably of these artists being influential for the way they handled paint.

Even though Hamzeh does not consider herself a figure painter, many of her paintings have a strong human presence. Upon first impression, Hamzeh’s “Delightful Scars” and “Welcoming in the Front Door” series seem ethereal with their tranquil colors of soft, meditative acrylic washes. On closer inspection, subtle clues of an underlying duality exist within Hamzeh’s alluring stained canvases.

Reframing what is considered symbols of safety, Hamzeh questions that life is not always a reflection of outward appearances. Easily persuaded by an appealing surface, one may be unnerved by discovering a less apparent moral turpitude that lies underneath.

In viewing “Home Sweet Home,” Hamzeh hopes that “the audience can find my works visually interesting and spend some time with them. I also see my show as an opportunity to talk about one of the biggest concerns I have, human rights violations in Iran … at the same time, my art pieces can be about the audience here. Many of the issues I am talking about people are struggling with here, as well — in different ways and levels.”

“Home Sweet Home” exhibition by artist Shahrbanoo Hamzeh will be in the Preston Jackson Gallery at the Contemporary Art Center from Jan. 7th until Feb. 19th. A combined artist reception with Roger Bean, and Chuck Flagg will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. Jan. 22nd, featuring music by Preston Jackson and John Miller Duo.

Shahrbanoo Hamzeh artwork may be found at

More Community Word articles can be found at Community Word – monthly newspaper based in Peoria, IL