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Meet Amir Tabatabaei and Niloufar Keyhani

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Q. Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Amir: I am an Iranian-American multidisciplinary artist. My works are mainly around social themes.

Niloufar: I am a visual artist. My works are centered on the exploration of women's issues.

Q. You came to America from Iran. What brought you to Watertown?

Niloufar: It was entirely by chance that we ended up living here. Despite the difficulty artists often face in finding a home, with strict rental conditions imposed by landlords and their reluctance to approve artists as tenants, we were fortunate to be introduced to our landlords, Merrie and Gabriel, through one of our friends. Over the course of these five years, this couple has made us feel like a part of their family.

Amir: During this time, I have had my studio at home, and it's where I carry out my work. I hope that someday I'll have my own personal studio where I can work with even greater focus and precision.

Q. How did you come to paint the mural?

Amir: I have had experience in creating several murals in Iran. Living in Watertown, and seeing the public spaces here, Niloufar and I felt that Watertown needs more murals. They can have a significant impact on the ambiance here.

We thought about proposing murals, and Liz Helfer, the Public Art Planner of Watertown, suggested the wall of CVS in Merchant Row as a potential location.

Niloufar: Excited about the opportunity, we began working on a proposal for the wall. After the city accepted our proposal, the contract between us and the owner of the CVS building for the wall was signed. After completing all the necessary legal procedures, such as obtaining insurance and permission from DPW, the implementation process started on May 15 and finished on July 20.

It took us 8 months from the proposal to the execution. The execution phase itself took 2 months.

Q. What’s the origin of the idea for the mural?

Amir: Since immigrating to the US, one of the most demographically diverse countries in the world, the concepts of utopia and the perennial search for an ideal place have become the central theme of many of my works, including the design for the current mural.

I see a reflection of my own longing for utopia in Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream...”. So I decided to name my piece, I See a Dream and dedicate it to all the brave souls who are fighting for a just, free, and equal world.

Niloufar: We both wish for a world full of peace, friendship, unity, and solidarity...

Q. What is the meaning of the mural?

Amir: This mural shows an imaginary utopian city on a blue background representing a river, like the Charles River. Utopia is a place of peace and justice for all races and ethnicities.

The design includes symbols like birds for peace, the Tree of Life and Phoenix for vitality, a chandelier for knowledge, a rainbow for LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and a butterfly angel representing support for migrants.

The design also features controlled elements like lights, emergency doors, and windows. It combines both Eastern and Western architectural styles, with the entrance gate inspired by the old Watertown Savings Bank building in the Watertown Square.

My Project Statement, offers an in depth discussion. (Note: It is at the bottom of the interview.)

Q. What has been the community’s feedback?

Niloufar: It was a fulfilling journey from the initial concept to the realization of the mural, and we are proud of the positive impact it has had on the community.

The best thing is that people who used to avoid passing through this alley now genuinely prefer to pass through it. Many of them stop and take pictures of the mural.

Also, the attention and reactions of the children during the process were incredibly heartwarming. They would always stop by the mural, watching the painting stages, while their parents explained the details of the design to them.

Q. What are your favorite things to do or places to visit in town?

Amir: If we were to choose one place to visit in Watertown, we would pick the historical Mount Auburn Cemetery. Niloufar and I have painted several scenes there.

Niloufar: We also really love to visit the Greenway Path, and many times, we enjoy taking walks and strolling through the streets, parks, and public places.

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More on Amir and Niloufar, and I See a Dream

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Project Statement - I See a Dream

Amir Tabatabaei

The dream of creating a utopia, an ideal space built upon universal ideals of peace, justice, and happiness, is an aspiration shared by all human beings. Fulfilling this eternal wish is predicated on the realization of peace, altruism, equality, justice, and respect for human dignity and freedom.

In my design, I aim to convey these concepts which I deem crucial for cultivating collective wisdom and consciousness to bring about a better world for all.

I have illustrated the connection and communication between places and imaginary cities through roads and bridges, symbolizing a unified, interconnected world.

By selecting a single dominant color throughout the piece, I emphasize the concepts of unity, equity, and justice for all.

The mural unfolds from one side with the opening of a gate and expands on through the other side in an open-ended design, symbolizing a boundless dream beckoning from the mind’s mysterious corners.

To symbolize the solidarity, harmony, and interweaving of cultures in today’s world, the forms, shapes, and decorations depicted in the design combine Eastern and Western architectural elements.

The birds in this design evoke the feeling of a peaceful place, highlighting the importance of peace, serenity, and safety in human life, just as birds build their nests where they feel safe. In designing the forms and figures of the birds, I have been influenced by the bird motifs symbolizing love and awareness which can be found in the Persian decorative arts of my home country of Iran which often.

The phoenix symbolizes perpetual renewal and timelessness, just as the utopian dream is constantly born anew in each consecutive generation.

The lights and lighting fixtures represent lively, bright, and truth-seeking minds, the most significant components of today’s progressive culture.

The guardian angel of this city is the symbol of a self-conscious mind.

The spaceship symbolizes our potential for scientific progress.

The figures in the design represent the virtual metaverse and avatars in and amongst which we live today, an ever-advancing phenomenon shaping the future of our communication.


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