It’s hard to tell where the portrait ends and the pillow begins in these plush sculptures by Maryam Ashkanian.
In a crafty way to capture people in the midst of their dreams, Iranian artist Maryam Ashkanian creates portraits of sleepers, which she embroiders onto fabric. and turns into pillows. The Sleep series stems from a fascination with dreams and the contrast between our conscious and unconscious perceptions. As the artist tells The Creators Project, “In dreaming, we are observers who stare into the farthest, most terrible and wonderful places, and we come back to the real world with these exclusive experiences.”
Before reaching for her needle and thread, Ashkanian works from photographs to create drawings of sleeping people. She then embroiders the drawings onto fabric, stitching them into pillows that she fills with stuffing. These pillow sculptures become both the backdrop for the imagery and the form that gives them shape. The process of embroidering the details of the faces onto fabric and filling it with stuffing warps and changes the images, making it hard to tell where the portrait ends and the pillow begins—not unlike a dream. This process also creates indentations in the pillows that also read as incredibly realistic facial features, allowing light and shadows to play on faces alongside the lines of the embroidered drawings.
The series was inspired by the notion that we become who we really are when we’re asleep. Ashkanian says, “I am really interested in sleeping people and I want to explore what they see in their dreams. I also believe they are in a different land or a different life. For me, when I start to sleep I really find myself in the middle of nowhere; in my utopia. I change into another person, or my real character, without a mask.” Depicting her subjects as soft sculptures that are made into pillows is a natural way for Ashkanian to represent the intimacy of watching a sleeping person as they dream. “Pillows are a metonymy of a dream,” she says. “Every person has a close relationship with his or her pillow, it is very, very personal.”
After starting to make work for the Sleep series, Ashkanian has gone on to create more sculptural work from fabric, thread, and other materials for her MUTATION series. Like the Sleep works, the works in MUTATION are sewn and stuffed to give them a sculptural quality, but one much more experimental and diverse. This is important to Ashkanian as an artist: “I believe that the artist should experience every material,” she says. Her fascination with the musings of the unconscious mind take shape in the of abstract works in the MUTATION series, which seem to illustrate what the subjects in her Sleep series might be seeing in her dreams.