On an inside wall of her art studio in Frisco, Zahra Jahanyfard painted a mural of a door and brought it to life with handcrafted ceramic door knobs, a wooden placard and personal notes inscribed by guests. This traditional Iranian door is painted in Persian design, using vivid colors and patterns to represent the heavy wood, tiles and metals used in original nineteenth century doors. Taking a closer look, one sees a key on an adjacent wall for unlocking the painted door that has no hinges. A worn wooden chair is positioned in front of the door, with a chador (a woman’s outer garment) draped over the back.
Why paint a mural inside a studio that cannot be transported to art exhibits or sold to the highest bidder? What is the symbolism of the door? The door serves no rational purpose of entry and exit. Yet, tremendous time, talent and resources went into its design. To experience it is breathtaking, and curiosity summons the viewer to pick up and drape the chador, knock and wait for someone to answer. One may even look on the back side of the mural to confirm it is just a painting. To further romanticize the experience, the elements of authentic santoor music play in the background, the scent of Persian tea wafts through the studio and the need to inquire grows stronger.
To answer questions of “why and what,” one must investigate the life and passions of Ms. Jahanyfard, the Iranian-born designer and artist. The mural has depth and meaning far beyond what the naked eye can see.
Ms. Jahanyfard was in elementary school when the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq began. She shares, “When you live in war, unrest becomes normal. When the sirens blared, whether day or night, we gathered a few belongings and ran to safety. We moved many times during my childhood. I learned I could not change the situation, I just had to accept it. When I was afraid, my outlet was to doodle on paper, drawing pictures of my dreams for the future. A small notebook traveled with me during the sudden and frequent moves.”
Doodling turned into a passion for art, and by the age of 17, Ms. Jahanyfard was an art teacher. At 19, she married Hamid Ghazaei and relocated to his hometown of Isfahan, where she studied at Pardis University. After graduation, Ms. Jahanyfard opened an art institute, Bahar School, where she taught drawing, sculpting and painting. Over a 12-year period, the school increased from two to 220 students of all ages and backgrounds.
Bahar means “new beginnings.” As if predicting her future in naming the art institute, Ms. Jahanyfard soon found her family leaving Iran in search of new beginnings in the U.S. The family relocated to Lexington, Mo., in 2007, where her husband was an instructor at the University of Central Missouri. Ms. Jahanyfard shares, “I felt lost. I was afraid. The only thing I knew about America was what I saw on the news, which was mostly school shootings and crime. I did not speak English and I did not know American culture. I kept thinking, ‘What happened? Where am I? I left my art school, now what?’”
Ms. Jahanyfard quickly realized, just as in her childhood, that she had to accept the situation at hand, but as an adult, she could do something to bring about change. As a fearful child, Ms. Jahanyfard doodled to find peace of mind. As a fearful and lonely adult, she looked for ways to use her background to make positive connections. Using her love for art, she painted and restored murals. She sketched and gave away portraits to college students and she taught art to help others find healing and identity. She used her passion to open doors and blend in to the community. Ms. Jahanyfard experienced firsthand the magic of art in breaking down barriers.
In 2017, Ms. Jahanyfard’s family relocated to Frisco. She stepped into her “new beginning” knowing how to change her status from newcomer to community partner. She says, “When you step into a new door, you come with respect for the city, people and culture. Because art helped me achieve dreams I had as a little girl, I wanted to bring that same magic to residents of Frisco by sharing my passion. I began making connections by teaching at One River School of Art + Design and serving as the director of education for the Frisco Fine Art Gallery.”
One of her first connections was with Nazanin Ahmady, an Iranian artist degreed in therapeutic art. They joined passions and opened Junction Arts, located in the heart of Frisco, with the purpose of using art to help people heal, connect and find peace. The art studio hosts a welcoming environment, filled with laughter, color and opportunity. It is a metaphorical door of opportunity into new lands and a window into new insights. Through this venture, Ms. Jahanyfard discovered another magic of art, saying, “The key to happiness is sharing our gifts with others.”
One cannot enter Ms. Jahanyfard’s world without acknowledging the roles both art and history played in bringing her from the warzone of Iran to fulfilling her dreams in America. She says, “Art reminds me where I came from … the fear and uncertainty during war times and the freedom I have as an American woman in discovering my identity, my voice and sharing my passion. Through murals, paintings and sculpture, I bring a bit of history to demonstrate the beauty of the Persian culture, colors and symbols to my new community.”
Ms. Jahanyfard explains, “Landmarks, architecture and memories from the past help us work through homesickness and pain. Art is a connecting point in both countries, and my work is a signature of my culture. I paint my reality and tell stories through art. The mural represents the door from my home in Iran and invites memories from the past. It also reminds me of the doors of opportunity I have stepped through, connecting my past dreams to my present reality, and bringing new beginnings for the future.”
After taking in the beauty and detail of the muraled door, the inquisitive viewer wonders about the significance of the colors, the detail and the words written in the Farsi language. A docent explanation is needed to bring the symbolism to life.
Ms. Jahanyfard, the artist and designer, explains, “Everything about the Persian door has meaning. The color of turquoise represents the universe and the cream color represents the earth. The artwork above the door is in the shape of stars. The placard, which I brought from my house in Iran, reads, “In the name of God,” and reminds the family to remember our blessings. Each of the double doors feature a door knob with a door knocker, and each door knocker is designed differently. Traditionally, if the visitor were male, he used the heavier knocker on the left door knob. The loud knocking sound alerted females inside the house to cover with a chador before answering (the chador is worn on the head and flows to the floor with the purpose of hiding the shape of a woman’s body). If visitors found no one home, they wrote a note on the wooden door.”
The mural symbolizes a treasured relic from the past, as traditional doors from centuries ago are difficult to find in modern day Iran. In addition, the double door knockers are outdated, as it is no longer mandatory in Iran for women to cover with a chador. The painting carries history of past culture and beliefs and is a reminder of the freedom Ms. Jahanyfard enjoys in America today.
Ms. Jahanyfard’s story speaks of doors of opportunity and how each person holds the power to open their own doors, as well as open doors for others. Twenty-five years after her first teaching job in Iran, Ms. Jahanyfard has come full circle, teaching art to students of all ages, helping them connect with others and find inner healing and purpose. She says, “I teach the same thing in a different place. Passion is practiced no matter where I go. The dreams I had as a little girl came true. The miracle will happen for everyone when we use what we have. That is the magic of art.”
Ms. Jahanyfard sees background and culture as assets and ways to give to the community, rather than oppositions or forces against it. She says, “We are shaped by our past, which feeds our present and future. Using everything as connecting points in our surroundings brings community, adds value and helps us reach out to serve others.”
To celebrate her past, Ms. Jahanyfard welcomes the community to make an appointment with Bahar Studio to view the mural. She explains, “This painting tells a story of culture, heritage, history, family and connection. It is a reminder of how our past opens the door for the future. As soon as we pass through a door, we mix with the people around us and become part of the community by getting involved and sharing with others. For the Persians who visit, the mural will take them back to a place and time of memories and history, which will help them remember the homeland.”
Ms. Jahanyfard’s dream is to establish an art residency program between Iran and the U.S., allowing artists from both countries to travel and make connections with people, countries, culture and art.
Mary Ethel Eckard is an award winner author of Christian non-fiction books and enjoys helping others bring their stories of inspiration to print.