'Yoga has been a big gift'

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'Yoga has been a big gift'

Each canvas of hers has its own story to tell — with distinct lines, vibrant hues and sharp tones. But the roots are entrenched deep in one’s femininity and sensuality. When one looks at Pegah Zangeneh’s paintings, they can’t help but see the eye-catching similarities between her works and those of the American modernism painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

The Iranian first came to Bengaluru in 2007 to pursue her Masters in Visual Arts in Bangalore University. Now, she has a year left to complete her PhD on a comparative study of Indian and Iranian artworks between the 17th and 19th century. “I come from a middle-class family in Tehran and completed my Bachelors in painting there. Soon, I applied to study visual arts in India because I was interested in the traditions and artworks of the country.”

When she first arrived here, her grasp of English was weak and she had a tough time understanding the Indian accent. “I was the only foreign student in my course,” she says. But that wasn’t the only difference she found between the two countries. “The education system is different here. In Iran, we have to go to college just three or four times a week. Here, I had to go everyday and maintain 94 per cent attendance. Also, the road made the journey to college difficult.”

But the artist found a group of friends who made her stay easier. “I really enjoyed the local community of friends in university. I lived with them for two years and they helped me a lot, whether it was to study or give me notes. I am still close to them,” she says. When she finished her Masters in 2009, she flew back to Tehran and worked as an assistant lecturer in a university and taught art. “However, I missed India so much! I’d dream about the country every night — the bells in the temples, colourful saris and everything. So I decided to do my PhD here.”

She came back in 2010 and has been here since. It did take her a while to get a visa and find a guide for her thesis, but she had made Bengaluru her home by 2011. Alongside working on her thesis, she holds occasional art exhibitions.

“I paint plants; I’m a plant lover. I study all the plants I paint and know most of their names. By painting plants (mainly flowers), I want to portray femininity and transparency.” Admitting that she frequently gets compared to Georgia O’Keeffe, she adds, “My paintings are sharp in colour, colourful and have dots.”

Although Iran and India have their differences, Pegah chooses to see the similarities especially when it comes to visual arts. Talking more about her thesis, she says, “Between the 17th and 19th centuries, we had so much of cultural exchange especially in the Mughal courts. But there were Iranian artists who came down South as well.” Adding to that, “There are even similarities between Hindi and Farsi because they come from the same source — Sanskrit. And both countries care a lot about tradition and religion.”

One of the things Indian doesn’t have in common with Iran is food. “We don’t use that many spices and we eat meat and rice everyday. I’m not a fan of Iranian food, but neither can I take the food here. There are too many spices and everything is deep-fried. But I do love butter chicken with Kerala ‘parotta’!” She usually cooks for herself, but for the last two months she has been ordering from health-conscious food apps.

When she isn’t painting or researching, she tries to travel, whether it’s around the City itself or some part of the country. “I travel as much as I can, especially by bus. I just pack my backpack and get on to a sleeper. I have been to Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Kodaikanal, Pondicherry, Goa (at least 10 times) and Chennai.”

She has Manali and Kerala on her to-visit list. But she refuses to travel by the BMTC because, “I didn’t have a good experience in it — a drunk man was teasing me on the bus.”

She is yet to try the railways but says she will sometime. “I feel safer on a bus when travelling alone.” But what Pegah loves about India the most is yoga. “It has been a big gift to my life. I practise regularly every morning; it’s amazing and I love it!”


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