Meet the Maker Month: Camellia of Holy Matter/s
My name is Camellia Jahanshahi. I am a queer, Iranian American, multidisciplinary artist living in the North East of Turtle Island (North America). I've been an artist my whole life and a small business owner for about the past 8 years where I've dabbled in all sorts of mediums from ceramics to zine-making, illustrations to herbal goods, ritual boxes to crystallized skulls, and altar projects. My work can be identified by my use of color, texture, and my use of magic rituals throughout my practice and offerings. I have always been someone who loves to play, explore, and experiment with my natural surroundings and anything else I can get my hands on.
How does your cultural background influence your work? As a mixed person who grew up in largely white spaces, my art became one of the avenues for me to explore my Iranian heritage and connect with other SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) creators and makers to learn more about myself and my ancestry. Through poetry, storytelling, dancing, and an inherent love of Persian textile patterns, mosaics, and miniature paintings, there is a definite influence and connection that I make to my past through my work. As a 1st generation daughter of an immigrant who I have often wrestled with what it means to be mixed, what it means to be part of a diaspora, what it means to connect to a country I've never been able to visit that speaks a language I was never taught and my art practice has been a great healing balm to those existential and political dilemmas.
You talk a lot about magic and witchcraft- what does that mean to you? I grew up spending all my summers and most of my winters with my grandparents in the woods. I also grew up in a theologically diverse household where I was encouraged to question and explore my own beliefs from the very beginning. I promise those two sentences to tie in together lol. My parents raised me in a Unitarian Universalist church, a nondenominational tradition that encourages philosophical exploration from a young age and invites kids (and adults) to name their own theologies. Those types of religious spaces attract a wide variety of, let’s say, alternative theologies. I grew up around humanists, atheists, Buddhists, pagans, scientific realists, and general spiritual and community seekers. From a very young age, I held a fascination with the diverse range of possibilities when it came to belief systems, I was naturally inclined to love and find a deep sense of wonder in nature from all my time alone in the woods as a child, and I realized that when it came down to it it's simply more fun to believe in things than not to. I would say I've always been a person of faith, and I've always been a person who willingly and consciously chooses to believe in the endless possibilities of magick. In truth I don't really care what people want to call it, witchcraft is just kind of fun in my mind, but I don't hold witchcraft over any other ritual centered way of being (which when we think about it, everyone participates in rituals and depends on them for structure in their lives).
When I talk about magic and witchcraft, the spells and charms and power, I'm talking about intention- manifestation- and surrendering to the beautiful power that is the universe beyond ourselves.
My art, my food, my herbal creations- they are all pieces of magic imbued with my love and specific intentions around a myriad of things. My work is a stubborn admittance that I am more than myself and our connections with the divine/the universe/the unknown are closer and more intricate than we often give them credit for.
It's also a connection to my ancestry, to the rituals around poetry, art, love, food, nature, and mysticism that I come from and hope to continue and honor in my life.
What's your favorite snack for when you're creating? I love bags of munchies- the cheesy kind.
OR I'm also pretty obsessed with sushi, specifically spicy salmon rolls that I share with my cat while we are both sprawled on my floor while I paint.
What does being a Maker mean to you? Being a Maker means pretty much everything to me. I don't just create with Holy Matter/s, I also run a fusion catering company called Sumac and Sugar where I blend Iranian and Southern Comfort foods, then I am a performance artist under the name Mina Minou where I create storytelling rituals and get to play with costumes and alter egos, and lastly, I'm a religious professional and community worker where I work hard to make sacred healing spaces for expansive community connection. Every part of my life includes and revolves around the act of "making". I use my heart, hands, mind, and soul as a Maker both because it's what I see needed in the world and because it's what I feel called to do in the expression of my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Being a Maker is being myself in my highest capacity.
What motivates you to create? A deep-seeded need to express and create. Creating is imperative to my mental and emotional health- whether I have an audience or not I need to create.
How have you developed your skills? Practice and exploration! I develop my skills not just by trying the same thing over and over but also by trying new mediums and exploring different techniques to better understand the options that exist for telling the stories I want to tell. Like all artists of course I can be sensitive about me work and a perfectionist to my own detriment at times- but one of my biggest successes in the past few years has been in letting go of the concepts of "perfect" or even "done". I believe in remaining teachable no matter what (something I've learned from my anti-racist work) and what that means in my art is that it's better to try and fail and keep going knowing I am in a constant state of learning and growing- that's how I keep going, by accepting that I will never be done and there's always more to do.
How has the pandemic impacted your creativity? I embrace absurdity more and more every day. But I also embrace rest more than I did before and try to give myself real space for spiritual and creative rest. I've taken away the pressure to create for a paycheck over the pandemic, which ironically and thankfully has actually really helped me make more sales! I think because I'm letting more of myself slip out onto social media, which I guess people like!
How do you apply your creativity to other aspects of your life? By staying teachable! I know I've said it a few times but it really is the most important thing I can think of in terms of being creative in life. Creativity blooms when your mind and heart are open to other options. I like to view most things- art, community, relationships, dinner, as experiments that are there to be explored and to just try things out until they fit without much judgment or restrictions on what I allow myself to think. Being creative is about having fun, shooting your shot, and seeing what happens.
What themes do you pursue in your work? I love exploring concepts of the sacred and how they manifest in our world. My business's namesake is a book by Sara Ritchey, “Holy Matter: Changing Perceptions of the Material World in Late Medieval Christianity”. Ritchey’s book analyzes the changing perceptions of material culture in history from a Christian lens. As a religious and political scholar, a witch, and an artist, I’m fascinated by depictions of the sacred. All the different ideas of spaces and objects where the material world and the spiritual collide inspire me endlessly.
I explore what is or can be considered sacred and profane. Death; sex; bodies; nature; and the divine intertwine themselves in our world and that’s what I try to reflect in my work. Even at its most colorful and lighthearted points, my hope is that my work guides you to ask yourself- “what is it to be human?”, “what is it for something to be sacred?”. And especially, “why?”
What is your favorite thing you've created and why? I'm grateful to love so much of my work! It's hard to pick a favorite. Certainly, I'm really into my crystalized skulls- a blend of science, nature, and fantasy that really speaks to my vibe. But I guess right now I'm really excited about a painting series I've been working on for the past year based on different SWANA mythological beasts! I've done three so far and plan to do between 5 and 7 of these large-scale paintings. They've been a great opportunity for me to explore my ancestral roots and make a contemporary connection in my styling. I've got big plans for this painting series, I don't want to spill the beans just yet but I'm very excited about them!
What is your dream project? One day I will have the patience for completing the graphic novels I have in my brain.
Do you accept commissions? I do! Not too often, but I run portrait illustration commissions around the holidays every year and I also take on hand-painted clothing, paintings, and sculptural commissions.
What type of art do you like to consume? I'll consume anything for the experience of it. I guess what I like most are worlds that are colorful, surreal, detail-oriented, and that offer contemporary twists on ancient stories.
Describe your creative process lol. messy.
Describe your latest project My current long-term project is working on an oracle deck and painting series based on SWANA mythological creatures. I don't want to say too much because I am still in the early stages, but I'm VERY EXCITED ABOUT IT and hoping to have it finished by the end of 2022, so if you watch my art space you will absolutely be seeing more about it soon.
What are your long-term goals? Long term I'd love to expand my herbal and culinary offerings but take a bit of a step back on pushing out smaller art projects to focus on bigger personal projects with the hope of showing in museums and blending more of my storytelling into my work.
What steps are you taking to ensure your growth as a maker? I keep my ego in check (admittedly sometimes to my detriment) but with the goal of always staying teachable. It helps to work with kids, who are always ready to remind you that life is short and inspiration is endless. It also helps to just remember that being bad at something isn't the end of anything and you can always try again- in fact, you should always try again, even if you think you're good at something you can always get better, or not better but different. You can always do things differently- regardless of "good" or "bad", you can just keep going and growing.
What three adjectives would you use to describe your work? Colorful, bold, detailed
Why are humans creative?
Because we are stubborn and resigned to living even if we are sad.