Farzad Kohan records the stories of immigrants from the Middle East who have resettled in America and Europe in his latest show, ‘Migration Stories’ at Ayyam Gallery

Your canvases are unframed, unstretched, and loosely hanging on the wall. Why did you choose this format?

The canvases are free, they are not bound by any borders. The loose sheet of canvas, you can roll up and take anywhere with you. It is an indication of being mobile, being able to move quickly, and I think it is an important quality of an immigrant, being able to move quickly through situations that you may find yourself in, being able to grab your things in the quickest way and move to the next place or the next thing.

What was the process of gathering the passages in the paintings?

For this project I opened up my social media as a tool to communicate with people who might be interested in participating. From an emotional perspective, the process of telling their immigration story was a challenge for some of the people who participated because not everyone is at ease talking about parts of their lives where they experienced hardships. Many people went through very similar experiences and dealt with the same emotions but not everyone was comfortable opening up about their feelings. It was an exercise of coming to terms with themselves in order to be able to share their experience with the rest of the world. The process was a kind of cleansing therapy and in some cases we all cried together, including myself.

You use the same typeface in all the paintings. What were your thoughts in making that choice?

I chose American Typewriter font because I live in America and I am the American guy who is behind the typewriter presenting other people’s words and stories. They are not my own words but the words and stories of others, so it made sense for me to use this font for my lettering. These stories have never been written before and involve a great level of trust and care from the people telling them. I wanted to be clear that I am not writing these stories, I am just painting them.

The text passages interact with various textures, drips, and splatters. What was the process of creating these surfaces?

I started by using water based materials and then oil based materials, which do not mix together. By making this decision, I am addressing the issue which is at the core of immigration. As immigrants we do not fit in, so we separate ourselves. The concept of immigration then becomes embedded even into the materials that are used to create this body of work.