A celebration of Persian voices and talent

A Conversation with Roshi Rouzbehani


A Conversation with
Roshi Rouzbehani

On art, the creative process, and her book, "50 Inspiring Iranian Women"
“Being an Iranian woman is an essential part of my identity...I decided to use my illustrations to elevate Iranian women’s triumphs and increase their visibility.”

A Conversation with Roshi Rouzbehani
On art, the creative process, and her book, "50 Inspiring Iranian Women"

“In the 50 Inspiring Iranian Women illustrated biography book, I have used my art to pay tribute to 50 extraordinary women from Iran. The mini-biographies in the book highlight the characters and achievements of these inspiring Iranian women, each of whom has made great strides in their respective social and professional lives; and the illustrations, done in my unique style, can hopefully serve as a modern touch on how we picture these outstanding women.”

(Purchase the book here.)

Congratulations on the sixth printing of 50 Inspiring Iranian Women [full disclosure, I had the honor of reading it before it was published], which is a love letter to the great Iranian women of the modern era. Would you talk about the genesis of the project?

RR Thank you so much Mandana-jaan. It was indeed an honour for me to have your insightful editorial comments before publishing the book.

The journey of this book’s publication began when I was working on the final project for my B.A. We had to choose a theme and I selected identity. Being an Iranian woman is an essential part of my identity, and it made me think of how Iranian women are often portrayed poorly, if at all, in mainstream media. Also, I have seen a lot of interest in celebrating remarkable women worldwide, which is excellent, but Iranian women have generally not been included in such projects. So, I decided to use my illustrations to elevate Iranian women’s triumphs and increase their visibility.

50 Inspiring Iranian Women © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani
50 Inspiring Iranian Women © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani

Did it start as individual portraits first or did you plan on a collection from the outset?

RR The project started by creating the portrait illustrations but then when I decided to publish the project as a book, I wrote short biographies detailing the lives and achievements of each woman to provide positive role models for future generations.

Are you thinking of another edition?

RR To be honest, I would love to create another edition to feature other incredible women but since I’m currently working on other personal and commercial projects, I don’t have enough time to focus on the second edition yet.

Would you talk a little about your background and how you’ve become an artist, writer and jeweler?

RR I don’t really consider myself a writer to be honest, but I have enjoyed doodling and drawing for as long as I can remember, and I was always passionate about visual arts though I never thought about it as a career.

Actually, I studied business management and IT before emigrating to the United Kingdom in 2011. Facing cultural and language barriers, I was looking for ways to express myself. So I decided to develop my own visual language, a language that everyone can understand, to reflect my inner state of how I see the world as a female Iranian immigrant. Since then, I have constantly been developing my visual language through painting, collage making, jewelry designing and making, and of course, illustration.

How has your art changed over your diverse career?

RR Now that I’m looking back at my career, I can see that I always was looking for the best way to express myself and what I care about. The subjects I keep returning to continue to be migration and women’s issues but how I approached these topics has changed over time. From traditional painting to collage making and now digital illustration, the message I try to convey has become more straightforward and minimal.

You have a particular passion for women’s empowerment issues: who are your role models and inspirations, personally and professionally?

RR Yes, I love to put topics such as women’s empowerment, sisterhood, and mental and physical health for women at the center of my work. I’m inspired by strong and resilient women around me, especially my mom, and I always look up to the female artists that somehow stand outside the preset or conventional boundaries.

No to patriarchy © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani
A better day will come © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani
Sisterhood © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani
Sprouting © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani
Together for IWD 2022 © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani

You have such a distinctive style of portraiture. The borders and colors are bold, yet there’s always a sense of openness on the faces. Would you talk about your media and your process? When you look at a photo of your subject, what do you hone in on to create your singular pieces?

RR I work digitally in the Procreate app on my iPad Pro. I usually draw the outlines first and then move on to the coloring stage. If I’m creating a portrait illustration, I search for the best photos that I think will offer the best referential quality. Then I add other aspects that will relate to the subject’s personality. I also add decorative elements like floral motifs and geometric patterns to make the illustration more eye-catching.

Not naming names of course, has there ever been a person who has been difficult for you to sketch in your style? Do you have a different process for well-known women who have been photographed publicly many times versus commissioned pieces by regular individuals?

RR The process of creating the portrait is the same for well-known and other individuals, but if I know more about a person, I can catch the essence of their personality better. So for commissioned portraits, I try to ask some simple questions to know the subject better.

There were some people that I struggled to portray in my style, and I think sometimes the reason is their appearance may not be parallel with my relation to or my understanding of them.

I love your line of jewelry; is it something you still have time for?

RR I have to confess that I’m not spending as much time on jewelry as I used to, or would like to! But some days, I get motivated to design and create a piece, and I do it at my small home studio (which is actually a bench in the corner of our spare room).

Roshaani © Jewelry by Roshi Rouzbehani
Roshaani © Jewelry by Roshi Rouzbehani
Roshaani © Jewelry by Roshi Rouzbehani

What other art forms have you engaged with; which are you interested in pursuing further?

RR I’ve been active in many art forms when I was trying to find my own visual language, and I’m still interested in many of them, like collage making and ceramics! But in reality, I’m more focused on illustration for now.

Given that I left Iran early in my life, I’ve never been to a gallery or museum there: would you talk about a place or project that is especially important to you?

RR I’ve missed visiting many galleries in Tehran, but the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (TMOCA) is the place where everything inspires me, even the building’s architecture and its circular walkways. TMOCA also has one of the most valuable collections of Western modern art alongside a great collection of Iranian modern and contemporary art.

Would you talk about your current project?

RR My current project is collaborative: I’ve invited Iranian immigrant women to share with me the story of their physical keepsakes—those treasured objects they were so emotionally attached to that they couldn’t leave behind when they migrated. The final product will probably be an illustrated book of these stories and hopefully will be interesting for everyone to learn about their emotional experiences.

Are there any treasured objects that you take with you wherever you go?

RR Well, besides some family photos and gifts I was given before emigrating, there is a handmade stamp with my late grandmother’s name on it, which she used instead of a signature in official situations. And also a red and white cardigan my mom used to wear. It gives me comfort and warmth whenever I wear it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

50 Inspiring Iranian Women © Illustration by Roshi Rouzbehani

For more information about 50 Inspiring Iranian Women and other products and projects, visit Rouzbehani’s website.


Roshi Rouzbehani is an Iranian freelance illustrator based in London, UK. Collaborating with clients such as The Washington Post, Project Everyone, BBC 100 Women, and Period Futures, Roshi creates editorial, institutional and portrait illustrations about social issues. She’s passionate about gender equality, and women’s empowerment is at the center of her work. Roshi has participated in many group exhibitions in Europe and Iran and her works have been featured in Creative Boom, BBC Persian, Middle East Eye, and more. Find out more about Roshi at www.roshirouzbehani.com or follow her on Instagram: @Roshi_Rouzbehani.

PHOTO, BOOK INFO and ARTWORK all courtesy of the artist

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