17-year-old Jamaican-Iranian illustrator Panteha Abareshi
. Currently based out of Tuscon, Arizona, she has captured imaginations with her satirical comic strips and graphically raw portraiture, depicting unapologetic women of color. Panteha was recently featured as the subject of Kelsey and Rémy Bennet’s
mini-documentary ‘The Girl Who Loves Roses’
, which premiered on Teen Vogue
. She hosted her first solo exhibition in New York City in April at Chinatown’s Larrie Gallery
“For the past two months, I have been working on a series of seven illustrations titled “Blessed Is The Pain”. These seven works express the struggles I have faced from an intense and harrowing religious upbringing, and how that intersects with my depression, anxiety and overall identity.
I was raised by divorced parents, both of which are immigrants. My father, who immigrated from Iran, is a steadfast atheist, and never spoke to me about religion. My mother, who immigrated form Jamaica, is a fiercely devout christian. From as far back as I can remember, my time spent with her was heavily regimented with religious practices- prayer, Sunday school, church, and scripture. Despite of all this, I have never believed in a God, and even when I was young I struggled to comply with all that my mother required of me. As I grew older, it became more and more difficult, especially when I began discovering my identity as a woman, and understanding my sexual identity. I was told that homosexuality is a sin, and made to feel that I was intrinsically bad for feeling the way that I did. When I began asserting that I was not interested in marriage, or having children, I was told that women were created by god to bear children, and that not marrying and doing so was a direct disobedience, and disgrace. When I expressed my fascination in evolutionary biology, I got in an immense amount of trouble for believing in something other than creationism. It was not only that I didn’t believe in what my mother thought to be true, it was that my entire person and soul was flawed and in need of healing. Being told repeatedly that I was wrong to the core because of the fundamental facets of my personality was so distressing, so damaging.
When I was about fourteen years old, I began suffering intensely from anxiety and depression, and at first I didn’t understand what was going on, and desperately sought for a reason for my sadness. I was told that it was because my spirit wasn’t strong enough, my faith not true enough. I was told that I would be cured with prayer, with devotion and scripture. And when my depression got worse and my anxiety intensified, it only went to show that I was completely estranged from God. My first anxiety attack was during a church sermon led by a pro-life activist. I scratched my skin raw, and then was accused of doing it for attention, or to get out of attending church services. It ate away at me, and still stays with me today. My depression and my anxiety are things that I have to live with and cope with every day, and sometimes I catch myself spiraling into intense guilt and self-blame, remembering all the things I was told growing up. It is an upsetting reality, that my experience with religion has made it very hard for me to be unbiased towards those who follow a devout faith, and to feel like I can trust those who are loudly and proudly religious. I began making my art as a coping mechanism for my mental illness, and though with each piece I confront the emotions that I have and that are often confusing, I have never attempted to confront the memories and emotions that my experience with religion has left me with. I have tried on numerous occasions, but in all honesty, it’s been extremely difficult because the memories are upsetting and confusing and difficult to articulate. That is why this series is so important to me. I have never been able to capture my hurt and my experience properly and honestly until now. Each piece is a memory, each piece is a slew of emotions. In preparation for this series, I read the bible cover to cover. I wanted to find specific bible verses to accompany each piece, and I also the experience of reading the full length of the scripture would put me in a better head-space to create each piece. I rediscovered verses that I’d once had memorized, and verses that I’d heard quoted so many times in church and by my mother. It was simultaneously cathartic and stressful, but ultimately provided me with the inspiration and motivation to complete each piece.“