Texas Tech University

Internationally Inspired: Artists Discuss Influence of Native Culture

Heidi Toth

October 22, 2015

For International Artist Day, an alumnus and a professor in the School of Art talk about bringing their backgrounds to West Texas studios.

For International Artist Day on Sunday (Oct. 25), two Texas Tech University artists who grew up in other countries talked about how they got here, what inspires their art and what they hope other people see and feel when experiencing their art.

Pedram Baldari

Pedram Baldari
Pedram Baldari

Pedram Baldari came to Texas Tech from his native Iran to study art. After studying art and architecture at the University of Tehran, he spent years doing first architecture and then art, including an art residency program in London.

His art is his voice. Baldari creates pieces of art that express his feelings on issues, particularly sociopolitical questions. He said his experience as an immigrant in the United States piqued his interest in body and identity.

“In some cases I work with traditional material, but in a way that I can translate those into more contemporary issues and mediums,” he said. “That was what brought me from the world of design and architecture into the world of art – to be able to talk about those issues.”

If he thinks it is needed, he supports each piece with a short statement so viewers can learn more about it. Frequently, he said, people would ask him about different pieces, or they'd pull out their phones and research that piece of art to figure out what he wanted to say.


Baldari's art doesn't always have a specific message, though. He doesn't want people to walk away thinking in a certain way. But he does want them to think. Much of his artwork would not be allowed in Iran, though his homeland finds its way into all of his art.

“All my projects are sort of a bridge between my own culture and the western world,” he said. “I'm not looking for answers in my work or to educate people, but to expose them to a variety of questions that they might not have thought about or show them some things from my own perspective that might be new and not totally fit into the western aesthetical world and vocabulary.”

His art provides a lot to consider. Although Baldari doesn't have a favorite – “they are all like my children” – in his latest solo show two works have been most successful in terms of what he hoped to accomplish. The first, “And Hereby Your Eyes Are Opened,” is a collection of close-up photographs of people's eyes. He installed the prints into 4-foot tall columns along the wall and included a video between the two installations.

“A lot of people just enjoyed the vibrant visual and the diversity in all the people's eyes,” he said. “Each person has a special iris. The pattern in it only belongs to that person.”


The other, called “Sealed the Concealed,” is taken from an ancient Iranian ritual called Zoor-Khaneh. Baldari looked at the ritualistic wooden club, called a Meel, and saw a similarity to the form of a bomb. Given the conversation today around Iran and nuclear weapons, he saw a parallel between the ancient and the contemporary because for centuries this ritual was an underground activity in ancient Iran.

To create the installation, Baldari used a lathe on these clubs to carve out designs and added metal symbols to the top, highlighting the weapon's nonfunctionality. These pieces are no longer weapons, he said. They are the artist's commentary on his culture and history and whether his country is repeating the same sociopolitical patterns under current systematic restrictions.

“People might think it's exotic cultural behavior, but I see patterns, how the ritual has been translated into modern Iranian culture, the dialogue between the subconscious of the nation and its history,” he said.

Sang-Mi Yoo

Sang-Mi Yoo
Sang-Mi Yoo

As an artist focusing on installation and printmaking, associate professor of art Sang-Mi Yoo's art starts out backwards. She takes photographs and uses the photographs to create her prints. The printmaking technique she uses, lithography, requires that she roll oil-based ink onto a photographic image on a plate that has been treated so the ink only sticks where she wants it. Slowly, the image comes to life. For Yoo, that image is frequently a house and surrounding landscape.

When Yoo moved to Lubbock in 2004, she was appalled by how many houses in a variety of neighborhoods were all built in the same way. Each neighborhood was different based on the time period in which it was built, but the houses in each period just seemed to be copycatting each other. She didn't see the beauty, art or life in these cookie-cutter houses – not like what she was used to, growing up in South Korea.

“I think replanting myself in America made me aware of the notion of an ideal home,” Yoo said. “The house is more like an archetype that I dream about from my childhood, like my grandma's house, where I would spend time when my mom was busy.”


Slowly, however, the sameness became both more interesting and more familiar. These houses reminded her of South Korea's New Village Movement, undertaken by then-president Park Chung-hee to bring economic development to rural Korea. Thousands of boxy homes went up in the 1970s. When discussing this style of architecture with art history professor Kevin Chua, he was interested in how similar those housing designs were to American minimalism in the 1960s. Four decades later, those few simple designs still influence home and neighborhood design in rural South Korea.

She had grown up seeing those types of homes, she realized. What's more, she had spent a significant part of her childhood in one of those homes.

“Interestingly, my grandmother was living in one of those houses,” Yoo said. “There is a blurry line between my ideal home that is associated with my childhood memory and the same-looking houses as New Villages homes and American tract homes.”

That led to the creation of “Capriccio,” an exhibit of large format prints and laser cuts that explores this idea of an ideal home but sort of looks at it backward, allowing viewers to also find their ideal homes in her work. She set up the installation this summer in Charleston, South Carolina, and it became one of her favorite shows.


Although she is now almost exclusively in printmaking, her art career started with drawing stick figures at age 5 and getting her bachelor's degree in painting. After finishing her degree, however, Yoo discovered painting was not her passion. She moved on to computer graphics, working for a couple of post-production companies in Seoul before moving to the United States. While in Champaign, Illinois, she took a few courses in printmaking at the University of Illinois and fell in love with the processes.

When she discovered printmaking was her passion, Yoo went to The Ohio State University for a master's degree in fine arts. Her master's thesis show combined all types of printmaking, including lithography, screen printing and digital printing. One piece, a lightbox with three openings, hangs above her desk; the outer openings show silhouettes of people's heads, while the middle has a head superimposed onto a city map.

“It didn't say it was interdisciplinary, but each area really allowed crossover,” she said of her program.


Yoo has continued to try new ways of creating art. Much of her art now is digitally printed for the larger scale necessary for her installation. Along with digital prints, she uses wool felt in her work, which is a stiff enough fabric to retain its shape but still creates drapery and casts shadows behind it when hung on the wall. Yoo cuts felt into silhouetted shapes using lasers, then goes through the lithography process with her pieces after hanging them on a wall and taking photographs of them.

Really, for her, art is about finding the idea an artist wants to express and the best medium with which to do it.

“My subject matters are more related to something that happens on a daily basis or about our everyday environment and surroundings, but I try to look at it from a different angle to make it unfamiliar,” she said. “I guess it goes with what other artists pursue as well: We all try to find unique viewpoints.”