INTERVIEW: PANTEHA ABARESHI

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Intro + Interview / Tiffany Diane Tso
Words + Art / Panteha Abareshi
Photos / Kelsey Bennett

Panteha Abareshi is a teenage artist from Tucson, Ariz. Her recent accomplishments include a solo show with the same title as her short documentary, The Girl Who Loves Roses. The video was  the first of The Front’s “Under Her Skin” series, created by sisters Rémy and Kelsey Bennett. Panteha is giving representation to mental and physical illness through her art, as a person living with Sickle Cell Beta Zero Thalassemia—a genetic disease that leaves its victim in chronic pain.
While I can only make a weak attempt, Panteha is probably the best person to tell you who Panteha is. This is Panteha: 

I’m Panteha Abareshi, a young human, a young artist. I identify as a lot of things, but I think my identity as an artist/creator is one of the most important things I identify as. Because I didn’t begin drawing with the intention of being an artist, coming to a place where I can call myself one, and feel a part of the artist culture, was an amazing and important moment for me. I strongly identify as a Woman of Color, and it’s important to me that the cultural and racial identities that [compose] my identity as a WOC are acknowledged. I’m second-generation Iranian and Jamaican, born in Montreal… One of the most important facets of my identity is my sexual and romantic identity. It’s interesting because even though it is important, my romantic/sexual identity is also intentionally very vague. I identify with pansexuality, asexuality, aromanticism and demi-romanticism. There are so many titles to use as identification, that it sometimes become more overwhelming being confronted with the need to pick one. All that being said, there’s a lot of things that I identify with and as, and when it comes to identifying myself in the general sense, it’s easier to just say, “I’m Panteha, and I’m an artist,” and leaving the rest of it for later…



I didn’t see myself as a Real Artist™ for a very long time, finally calling myself that, and being recognized as an artist by other artists I respect was a very big moment for me. I still struggle immensely with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, and I definitely sometimes feel like I don’t “deserve” to be called an artist. I feel like when I say “I’m an artist,” I have to follow it with “well… I’m an illustrator, I guess. I mean, I draw. Sort of.” and just sort of spiral into a slew of self-deprecating word-vomit. 
My sickle cell is unfortunately the thing that most people cling to, and that and my race are often what my identity is boiled down to. Because my art is about my mental illness, it is extremely upsetting that when people know about my sickle cell, they assume that my work is about the physical pain, and not the mental pain. It’s ironic, because that’s exactly the flaw in society that I speak out against and am trying to confront in my work…

I only draw WOC because it’s extremely important for me to create the kind of female characters that I missed growing up, and still feel the absence of in contemporary art and media today. Drawing these WOC, who are also the embodiments of my struggles with mental illness, is a big part of me expressing and deepening my identity as a WOC, and coping with my emotions and depression…
I’m a very isolated and insular person, so it’s easy for me to just be alone in my bedroom working on my pieces, and not really registering their reception by the outside world. Still though, it doesn’t push me to change what I’m drawing or creating. I’ll never stop making art for myself, because I think I need it the most.


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