From Khatam to Wearable Art

Images courtesy of Maryam Badv

Like many Iranians growing up in exile, I’m always seeking for something palpable to remind me of my Iranian identity and heritage. The older I get, the more I want to surround myself with objects and arts of Iran. My quest of belonging is what led me to find a young Persian artist based in Canada, who turns the ancient Persian art of Khatam in to one of a kind jewellery.

A PhD student Biomedical Engineering, Maryam Badv’s  love for this ancient geometric Iranian art has given life to an independent label, seeking to preserve and innovate the beauty of khatam. What makes her creations unique is that it allows you to wear a piece of precious Iranian history as modern jewellery on everyday occasions. She is one of the first, if not the only, to incorporate this art in to wearability. Still in development and growing steady, her creations are already gaining fierce popularity around the world. In fact, with the history and delicacy of this particular Iranian marquetry art, Maryam’s work has great future potential. I instantly fell in love with her work and got in touch with her to talk about Iran, heritage and her unusual path from Science to Khatam.

Do you have any memories of Iran as a child?

I don’t know where to begin. I have a lot of sweet memories of home (Iran), the smell, people, art, nature and just that entire feeling of belonging. I loved the ancient architecture when walking through my grandmother’s neighbourhood, or the alley’s of the Bazar. I used to take a new path each time when coming back from school, just to discover something new. There was always something new to discover, to surprise you. My most cherished moments are those on the roof of my childhood home. I used to put a tent there during summer and at night I always felt I could touch the universe just by gazing at the stars.

What is your connection to the art Khatam-Kari?

I’ve always had tremendous respect for Persian art, I’ve always felt connected to it- especially Khatam. The details and effort put in to creating this art amazes me- I can really lose myself in the patterns. I used to stare at every khatam-kari piece that I would find, trying to find the starting point of the patterns-which btw is so difficult to spot. Its potential, uniqueness, detailed patterns and cultural heritage is why I chose this art in particular. I imagined wearing such a historical piece and I wasn’t ready to give that thought up. So I decided to make my dream come true and just went for it.

Khatam Pendant by Maryam Badv.

Tell me about your jewellery.

The essence of my work is to provide an innovative mix of history, heritage and modern jewellery. Like a fashion designer tries to shape textiles into high-end clothing, I try to shape khatam into different pieces of jewellery items with the sole purpose of preserving the beauty of this ancient art.

What is the process from a Khatam to one of your wearable arts?

I source my Khatam strips in Shiraz, directly from the hands of Khatam masters. I spend a lot of time sketching my designs and work with brass and wood, that I cut and shape as the body of where the delicate pieces will be applied on. I use maple and mahogany wood, along with brass and I’d like to work with gold too in the near future. After the design process and creating the body, I start the process of cutting. In some cases this might be done in two phases. The first phase involves cutting the outline design. The second phase involves re-attaching the very small and delicate pieces that were separated from the main piece in first cutting process. When the Khatam pieces are cut and polished, they are integrated with the wooden and brass bases and the pieces are complete.

The world of science is increasingly melting together with the arts and fashion. As a scientist and artist- what is your view on this?

Art has always been about the delicacy of a certain craft or masterpiece and preserving the beauty of it. Science and technology in particular can help enhance and progress this effort by allowing the creator to explore a vast amount of details, in different fields of art much faster and innovate production elements. In the world of khatam where details are a crucial aspect, I see a significant opportunity that would help enthusiasts to unveil a lot more layers of this magnificent art. This might eventually help the fashion industry too, by adding a meaningful complexity to different line of products, much like the benefits of 3D technology today. I’m doing a lot of research on finding modern technology that could help innovate the art while maintaining the delicacy and quality of the craft. This includes studying similar industries using high tech equipment as well as understanding the existing technologies in creating this kind of art.

How do you experience being part of both worlds?

Looking at this art from the outside, from a scientific point of view, in the beginning it made me wonder how a simple piece like this could have so many details behind it? The complexity of it is intriguing. As a scientist you are always trying to solve different puzzles. You have a discipline in mind and follow certain protocols. This has helped me tremendously in my first approach to khatam. I get to put my scientific hat on and question Khatam’s beauty, complexity and future along the way. You get to know the art as if it were a living creature with several layers and personalities. This art in specific has also played an important role in my academic life as well. Whenever I find myself in a tough situation regarding my scientific work, getting my hands dirty creating a piece is like a meditation that helps my mind cool off and tackle problems with a fresh and ready mind.

Khatam Cufflinks

There are little to no Persian influences in Western fashion and arts. Do you think there’s future potential for it to flourish in the West?

Based on my experience with customers from different countries and cultures, I have observed that there is great admiration and appreciation for Persian arts- or I should say specifically for Khatam. I do believe however, that there is a long way to go to introduce these rich Persian arts into the mainstream or in the fashion. The approach should be taken in strategic steps such as combining western arts with Persian art and introducing products that are appealing to Westerners but at the same time preserving their Persian originality and identity.

A PhD in hand and an artist, where would you like to go in the future?

Indeed, I’m currently doing a Science PhD, so my hands are a bit tied and can’t really spend all the time I want working and creating but I know that it won’t always be like this. I’m really developing my brand and am working on my website that I will be launching in the near future and I have several new designs and ideas that are on paper and I am looking forward to bringing them to life. Long term I would love to reach out and collaborate with fashion designers and other artists in this field to learn from their expertise, to innovate and expand my work. And as I said, I believe science and arts can go hand in hand perfectly. In general, I am very optimistic about the path that I’m taking and hope to show my art to the world.

You can follow Maryam on Instagram or visit her Etsy shop to get your hands on a unique piece of your own.