By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Iranian-born artist Mahla Karimian’s first chance to express herself on Australian gallery walls was a national art event in Dandenong.

Prior to arriving in Australia, Ms Karimian found it difficult to express herself as an artist in her former homeland.

She had been jailed for practising art as a woman – arrested for simply taking a photo on the street.

“Even though I had a few successful exhibitions (in Iran) it was very challenging to be an artist,” the multi-skilled practitioner said.

“I was born in an Islamic country where, as a woman, I was forbidden from taking part in anything relating to art.”

Ms Karimian even spent time in a detention centre soon after her arrival in Australia in 2013.

The turning point was a 2016 HOME event in Dandenong. It was her first art exhibition in Australia and she won a prize.

HOME is an annual exhibition run by Greater Dandenong Council, celebrating artists from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds.

“HOME was a huge step for me to find a connection and express myself and share my stories in a language of art with a broader community in Melbourne,” Ms Karimian said.

With entries open for the 2018 exhibition, the event created the opportunity for young people with refugee backgrounds to express themselves in a “safe and creative” environment, she said.

It allowed artists to share their stories with the wider community – and to bring them together.

Since 2016, Ms Karimian has exhibited in galleries across Melbourne as well as the HOME event twice.

She works predominantly by etching on scratchboard – as well as mastering printmaking, sculpture, stencil, woodblock, digital media and photography.

She gained a photography degree from Tehran University.

Ms Karimian prefers scratchboard because it mirrors the scars and scratches she’s endured in life.

“It’s a visual reflection of how I feel, and it ultimately allows me to create something beautiful out of something painful.”

The HOME exhibition is in its fourth year, having given a platform to talented emerging artists such as Ms Karimian and last year’s winner Pierre Makeba.

Curator David O’Halloran said the exhibition was a “celebration of the positive influence refugees continue to have in our country”.

Greater Dandenong mayor Youhorn Chea said the council prided itself on its support for asylum seekers and refugees in its community.

“We are extremely proud of the opportunity Home will offer artists from all over Australia.”

Entries for HOME 2018 are open until Sunday 29 July. The exhibition is staged in October.

Details: www.greaterdandenong.com/document/31066/home-call-for-artist-proposals

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