Q & A with Artist and Designer Sara Emami

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Sara Emami is an Iranian born designer and artist living in Amsterdam. She has a magnetic relationship with the color blue and is also intertwined with the color red. We were instantly drawn her to her work, which she has cultivated and maintained with these 2 primary colors, and excited to delve into her connections with color, and how this all came about. 

Alexis: Where did you grow up and does that effect your aesthetic in any particular way?

Sara: I grew up in a dreamy town in the Netherlands called Delft. I remember how I admired the blue sky, its clouds, and the street bricks. I later understood the privilege of daily seeing those wonderful clouds, the very same that seventeenth-century Dutch artists captured in their landscape paintings, which often show more sky than land. The city Delft is best known for the painter Vermeer, whose only landscape painting View of Delft is among the most magnificent in that genre. I saw the painting for the first time in my twenties and I think it’s the most beautiful painting I ever saw. As so often the case, the pictures on Google don’t do justice. And then there is the beautiful Market Square; in my childhood, I was surrounded by beauty without realizing it.

My parents were first-generation refugees from Iran. Our life in the eighties and nineties was modest. We lived in a tiny house, where, being a dreamy kid, I drew and practiced handicrafts in my small room. The arts caught my attention, partially because my mother was an art student at the time. She encouraged me to draw and always showed me how proud she was. She framed a big painting I made when I was four. It was called “Girl in a bathing suit.” I really appreciated the fact that you could create something and hang it on your wall and simply admire it. She also had some art books. I secretly admired her Gauguin book because of the colors, and I loved her book on Miro, specifically Miro’s Blue II painting. Because of that mesmerizing blue and red, I decided that Joan Miro was one of my favorite artists.

What do you collect?

I collect blue objects. It started with blue bottles, actually, but then I figured I should collect anything blue, like Delft blue porcelain and other blue objects. More recently, I decided to collect blue dresses. But whatever I collect, the object should tell a story. Because of my passion for blue, many friends and even strangers have gifted me blue things. These gifts acquire meaning through people’s stories, and that's actually what matters the most to me. Even the blue dresses I bought are mostly from small businesses, runn by people I don’t know but who would sometimes share their stories and their love for blue. For example, a shop owner once responded to a thank you message, that I reminded her of how much she loved blue and that she decided to try on more blue after after wearing black under challenging times.

What does your average day look like from waking to bedtime?

OMG, my days are pretty intense, not very romantic, to be honest. I wake up 6:45 to get myself and the kids ready for school and daycare. I drop my daughter at 8:45, after a 7 km bike ride before going to work at Philips. Our hectic evening routine with the kids starts around 18:00. If all goes well, my kids are in bed at 21:00 and sleeping at 21:30. By that time, I am already pretty tired, but my husband and I still try to be productive. He is an academic, which means that he basically always works, even when he is not working. He starts again when the kids fall asleep while I try to do some drawing, thinking about stories I would like to tell. And if my husband can pause work, we watch a documentary together

Was there another color before your signature blue that you were just as passionate about?

No, blue is the only color I am passionate about. I used to love red too, but never as much as blue. It never crossed my mind to collect red objects. The color blue, however, somehow stuck. I never became tired of it at all. 

Do you move through colors over time? If so what seems to mark those transitions?

Blue remains my core color, but I want to keep experimenting with other colors too. A transition may be triggered, for example, by seeing others wear a color I usually wouldn’t, or because of a piece of art or an essay about a particular color. I recently bought a fantastic book titled The Secret Life of Colors, which presents an overview of the history of colors. I always liked combining red and blue, but recently felt I needed to add another color to my palette. I occasionally wear yellow but don’t want my style to be limited to primary colors. 

One notable transition concerning colors occurred after my daughter’s birth. While I hated pink growing up, because I didn’t like the fact that it was associated with being girly. Avoiding it as a mother became impossible. Either I would be gifted pink presents, or pink was there all the time whenever I wanted to buy my daughter new clothes. Then I decided to look at the color pink differently. I read about the history of pink for girls and blue for boys, and that it was a random marketing decision in the eighties, and that pink used to be associated with boys and blue with girls. Anyway, I now try to look at the color pink from a formalist point of view, apart from the association with girls, and I came to the realization that it’s a wonderful color that goes so well with cobalt blue. So pink attracts me these days. I am also thinking of adding green to my color palette, but I am not so convinced yet.

What is it about color, or blue specifically, that speaks to you...and what does it say?

To me, blue is the color of comfort. I can turn to it when I am sad, but I also find it joyful. It’s not coincidental that blue is the world’s favorite color. It’s bright and vibrant, as well as calm and soothing. I can wear it to be really expressive, but it can also serve as a more neutral color. It works for everything. Yves Klein famously said that “Blue is the invisible becoming visible. Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond the dimensions of which other colors partake.” I later learned how precious blue was for painters, especially during the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Making it required the lapis lazuli stone, which was available only in the mines of present-day Afghanistan. Blue cost more than gold and demonstrated patrons affluence. Precious blue colored Madonna’s robe. This is also why blue used to be associated with girls. But there is also the story that Vermeer loved using lapis lazuli, and was always poor because he bought more of it than he could afford. I also like the fact that the color blue connects me to Vermeer because of his love for blue, and to Delft, because of both Delft blue and Vermeer. Blue also connects me to Iran, where I was born. Persian blue is based on the color of lapis lazuli. It is used in Persian pottery, miniature paintings, and mosques. I like to think of my identity as a mixture of these cultures and that the color blue can somehow represent all those stories. 

What is something that you love about this stage in your life?

In my thirties, I experienced the most difficult years of my life thus far. At the same time, I finally understand what it means to be confident. Growing up, I always struggled with the idea of my “true self.” I felt the urge to be expressive but felt restricted or even ashamed of showing my ideas and works. I may have been dealing with the imposter syndrome, which is, fortunately, fading away.

You can find Sara here @saraemamii

And her Beklina Ribbed Belt Bag here.


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