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Soheila Sokhanvari

Soheila stands with her arms folded against a black and white tiled wall.

Soheila Sokhanvari

BA (Hons) Art (Practice and History) 2005

1. Tell us about yourself.
I'm a British Iranian. I came to England in 1978 and graduated with a degree in biochemistry in 1986. I was a cytogeneticist for 18 years, before following a childhood dream by taking a leap of faith to become an artist.

I did a part-time Art History and Fine Art degree at ARU from 2001-2005. Afterwards I finished a Postgraduate Diploma from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2006 and then an MFA from Goldsmiths College in 2011. I now live as a multi-media artist exhibiting nationally and internationally.

2. What is your fondest memory of Anglia Ruskin University?
The first day of my course, in October 2001. I was so excited to have embarked on the path to realise my dream and I felt for the first time, I was in higher education for something I had a passion for. I loved the art history lectures that our teachers sometimes held at Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; they were some of my favourite times spent as a student ever. I have fond memories from my time at Anglia Ruskin because there were light bulbs going on in my head every day.

3. What has been your favourite job?
Being a professional multi-media artist is a passion, so it doesn’t feel like work for me. Having an exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to show viewers what matters to you and the feedback from the audience and the critics is the best learning curve. I do not measure success in fame or money but in doing what you absolutely love all day.

4. In one word, how would you describe Anglia Ruskin University?

5. How did your time at ARU help you?
It put down the foundation stones in my knowledge of art and history and helped put me on the path to the career that I love. It helped me to climb the ladder of education to reach my goal of going to the top art university in England, Goldsmiths College.

6. What did you love about your chosen course?
At the time, the art course at Anglia provided a rare and a unique opportunity to learn history of art and practice in equal measures and so it allowed me to learn not only the language of art but also to contextualise my own works. It was wonderful to learn from professional artists and helped me to criticise my own art at a higher level.

7. What advice would you give to current students as they’re preparing to graduate?
Have a strong vision of where you want to go, and then go for it! You may find yourself waiting forever for an opportunity to come for you, but you need to make your own opportunities. Carve your own niche and you will fit better, rather than try and fit into one.

8. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst studying?
I wish I had known in advance the structure of the art world I was going into. I had to learn first hand through my own mistakes where I was and the path I needed to take to get to where I wanted to go. At the time, I found in all institutions that I studied at, that they do not prepare you for the outside world and I wish more effort could have been made to help students.

9. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
My father, a fashion designer and model in Iran. He advised and guided me in my childhood and taught me to paint, nurturing my creativity and inspiring much of my art. He sadly passed away in 2021.

10. What advice would you give your younger self?
I wish I could have been more confident when I was starting out, as I would go on to learn that confidence is liberating and allows you to speak truthfully through your work. As an ex-scientist, I felt like an imposter in the art world, and I wish I had trusted my vision more.

11. Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I started my degree at Anglia Ruskin university, as a mother of a then ten-year-old boy. I had to work as a part-time research scientist for Cambridge University, study art part-time and be a full-time mother to eventually a young teenager. I still managed to get a 1st in my BA degree.

12. What’s next?
I'm having a retrospective solo show in Heong Gallery, Downing College, Cambridge, from 6 October 2023 to 4 February 2024. I have several upcoming group as well as solo shows to be announced soon.