Behnaz, Art & Freedom

I cringed when she began to rifle through my work. I wanted to melt into the cushy chair I was sitting in and become one with the upholstery. Her work has been compared to Francis Bacon for crying out loud, and here she was critiquing my art. There were a few I puffed my chest out on, awaiting a word of praise, but there was none. She didn’t say much at all. It was agonizing. Until she came to this piece, which I abhorred – in fact I wasn’t even sure why I brought it in the first place.

“This is good.”

Wait, what? Of all the examples I brought, she thought this one deserved the one and only accolade? And I slowly began to look at this painting with new eyes. I previously viewed it as a tragic mess, but she praised me for my “freedom” in it. Yes, I told her. That was one that I didn’t really care what the outcome was, I just did it in a way that felt like freedom at the time. But all I could see in the end were all the mistakes and not an ideal finished piece.

That hour I spent with a beautiful Iranian artist named Behnaz Sohrabian, I will never forget. Her with her thick Iranian accent, warm but firm rebukes, and humble offerings. Who’s work literally left me breathless when I saw it at an art gallery months ago. I toyed with the idea of asking her to mentor me – fully realizing what an extremely bold ask it was. I rustled up the courage and ended up emailing her and we met together twice.

I’ve always struggled with how art relates to my faith, and I now I realize I’ve been looking at it all wrong. Art is from God. Art is our search for beauty and meaning, and freedom. Art communicates God, whether the artist knows it or not. God in his symmetry, his perfection in composition, his color, His beauty, His wrath, His creation.

She told me, emphatically, in her beautiful Iranian accent, “Be a brave lady” and, “don’t be a coward.”

“Be free” she said, over and over, like a mantra. And somehow, this encounter with this artist and her art has leaked into my life as a whole and broken down walls that have been erected by false belief. Despite knowing better, I have always felt that I had to DO to EARN. That love was conditional based on what I did right and what I did wrong. It affected my relationship with God – I felt like if I had things together, he loved me – if I didn’t and life looked messy, surely he was mad at me.

Art by Behnaz Sohrabian

I had a lot to process on the way home from that meeting, and thankfully both my children were sleeping so I could get out my journal and try to write everything down. Then my sweet husband – not knowing anything about the experience I just had – corrected me about something I’d done wrong. Well, in my current state, all I could say was, “I don’t want to hear that right now.” I told him to give me a few minutes and I walked into my 1.5 year olds room, where he had just woken up from his nap. He looked at me with the sweetest love in his eyes, and at that moment, I broke. The tears came. I let God do a work in me. I realized in that moment that freedom is not just about an ideal state of living – it’s about knowing that you are loved, despite your flaws and imperfections. And in that moment, I understood how God sees me – because you see, He knows I’m flawed. He knows that sometimes I’m angry, prideful, unforgiving, unloving, a broken person – but a broken person who has accepted healing, redemption, and freedom.

I love that God doesn’t stop making us. We are constantly being created by our experiences, relationships, and circumstances (good and bad). And I love how God sets up meetings like the one I had with a lady from Iran, who taught me my biggest lesson about freedom.

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