By Sandra Marshall
Inspired by the curves and flow of soft paper clay, Hengameh Kamal Rad responds as the clay guides her quest. She is a sensitive soul and responds to the touch of clay and to the human condition.
Hengameh’s interest in art began before she left her native land. Although women were not permitted to study pottery in Iran, she persisted in her desire to learn that craft at the ministry of culture in Tehran at the age of 28. Over a period of several years and her courage and determination against denial, she learned wheel throwing and improved her skills by making many vases, opening the way for other women. But she found her life constrained by the political sentiments of the time where authorities forbade the uncovered appearance of the human body in artwork, particularly if the subject was female. People were punished for thinking or dreaming outside of their appointed cultural conditions. Today, her drive to social justice springs from the injustice that she witnessed under the dictatorship. She strives to make us aware that this cruelty will happen in every country if we close our eyes to what is really happening. Hengameh cites a Persian poem that describes her belief:
“If you have no sympathy for human pain
The name of human you cannot retain.”
Hengameh immigrated to Canada from Iran in 1999 with her husband and three children aged 9, 11 and 12. At first, finding suitable employment for the couple was a challenge. Her first work was babysitting in the apartment where she lived. Then, following training through an Ottawa agency, she began as a personal support worker. She left that work in 2017 when she became disillusioned by the lack of support that PSWs received from her employer.
But clay had left an indelible attraction for Hengameh, and she returned to that medium when she became familiar with the Ottawa art community. She became a member of the Ottawa Guild of Potters to connect to clay artists and began courses at Sunnyside Community Centre, where she could have her work kiln-fired and glazed. Her first Guild sponsored ceramic exhibition was in 1999 when she was accepted to the Guild’s annual pottery sale. This encouraged her to keep improving her skills. When the Sunnyside clay studio was closed, she found the Dempsey Community Centre to continue her passion for clay – hand building rather than wheel thrown work. As Dempsey did not have a kiln, she worked with unfired paper clay, applying an oil patina to solidify the work. Her sculptures were free flowing, following the inspiration that hand-building clay gives her. She designed the pieces for wall hanging, where her delicate pieces would not be damaged. Her process begins with a clay base into which she incorporates elements for hanging her works. Once this preparation is done, she engages with the soft clay, building confidently, moving the clay according to its bidding, moulding the curves with her deepest feelings.
In 2011, Hengameh Kamal Rad joined the National Capital Network of Sculptors. The fact that two of her juried works of fired paper clay were part of the 2013 sculpture exhibition at the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, gave her positive feedback. Her sculptural work is energized by the outdoors – the glorious flow of water and snow. The mysteries of design in nature and space, of life and reproduction are all part of her creations.
To Hengameh, human consciousness remains an enigma. Her work is abstract with a figurative element. She also has maintained her sense of frustration over political bullying and expresses her defiance in recent works. Lately her art has taken a more figurative expression. You might see an angry Trumpian character in one of them.
Now, with her children grown, she lives with her mother and sees a granddaughter frequently, but she has more time to grow her work. Last year Hengameh had a month-long solo exhibition Glimpse into the Human Conscience at the Nepean Atrium Gallery in which she employed two-dimensional wall pieces as well as 3-D sculptural pieces on plinths. She continues to explore the theme of human consciousness with new work and is seeking more exposure of her work. A recent large piece titled Avalanche was sparked by an image from nature and formed by her hands negotiating with clay.
To see more of her work, visit her webpage at www.hengameh.ca and in Facebook at hengameh.kamalrad