Under the Rug: An interview with Monya Nikahd



by Nuveen Barwari





Interwoven, November 2020.





Nuveen Barwari: According to my “good friend” Merriam Webster the definition of ‘sweep (something) under the rug’, means to hide (something that is illegal, embarrassing, or wrong). You know when someone comes into the studio and they end up talking about that one piece that is “swept under the rug”? Well, that is the approach that I have been taking with this “Under the Rug” series. If there is one thing that you could share with me that is usually swept under the rug by other people when entering your space… or is there something that you sweep under the rug that you try to keep away from others when they view your work or enter your space?




Monya Nikahd: I try to stay transparent about the trial and error it takes to complete a project. But what I keep tucked away in my space are the failed ideas it has taken to be in a place where I feel satisfied with what I make. I have old suitcases full of unfinished woven scraps and old projects. I keep them because I like to look at my progress, but also because I like to keep conscious of the massive amount of textile waste we create as humans, expecting I will create something new out of it all eventually.






Left: unfinished dyed silk projects; Right: Woven work from the past







I like to share my experiments with my materials on Instagram (@monernism). I still remember those experiments that didn’t work and keep them in my growing collection of suitcases and odd storage compartments. Recently, I have been reopening these old suitcases of “failed experiments”, hoping to apply what I know in the present and give these unconventional textile experiments another shot.






Computer parts, woven scraps, and things usually tucked away







NB: Can you give me an introduction about yourself and your work? What’s your favorite snack?




MN: I’ve been weaving for 3-ish years. When I first wove at a loom, I immediately searched for another medium. I wanted something more rigid. It was difficult for me to learn the rules before I broke them. Soon, I wanted to make fiber art that was not limited to the bounds of ‘soft.’ (I’m stubborn but open minded… It’s a struggle!)




As I was weaving, I was also experimenting with processes I would invent—crocheting with silicone, weaving on motherboards, sandblasting the textile, encasing the weaving in glass/ resin.. etc. All the ways which was unfamiliar to this soft material with an ephemeral composition. I started gathering inspiration from things completely unrelated to textiles to achieve this. Observing insides of electronics, exploring abandoned areas, things that would help me think outside of the box. I’m still learning… I keep my practice open to failure.




Favorite snacks…. I love ice-cream…






(Image: Crocheted silicone formed into a face mask, February 2019.)




Experimenting with sanding a textile, incorporating bits of technology, epoxy, 2019.




Weaving in resin, 2019








NB: What have you been thinking about lately? What have you been reading?




MN: Lately I have been focused on slowness. It’s something I have tried to practice for so long, with my craft and with myself. I’ve always struggled with it.



I do a lot of reading on psychology, for instance, how our early life experiences effect our present characteristics, reading on the different personality types, and dreams.



I am also reading a book that explains in great depth how trauma literally reshapes both the body and brain. This book is called The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk.




NB: If I was in your studio right now what would I see? Be honest. Works in progress? Tell me about what you are working on right now.




MN: Under my ‘borrowed’ loom is an old ‘unlicensed Mickey Mouse’ rug brought back from Iran in 1990-something, along with other random pieces of textile memorabilia from my childhood. My father would bring back these little gifts from Iran in his back-and-forth travels when I was very young.


-A bobbin winder that’s actually just a power drill.


-Old suitcases and thrifted woven baskets that hold unfinished work: red dyed silks, woven work from the past, fishing line, pieces of motherboards.


-Shelves with tools, materials, and yarns (majority being red, black, or brown shades)


-A burlap rice bag carrying a soldering iron and pieces of hardware







Mickey Rug under a loom



Childhood pieces from Iran, sitting on a shelf among other studio materials






Works in progress:



Right now, I am building a tapestry frame. I am aiming to reflect my recent work, creating larger scale pieces– wall pieces and rugs.






Cutting in the ‘teeth’ of the tapestry frame. This keeps the warp in order and from moving around.








NB: Can you tell me more about your “Shirazi Red” piece?  I have heard many things about the city of Shiraz from my father… Have you ever been? What is your relationship to that place?




MN: My father was from Shiraz, Iran. After his sudden passing in 2018, a lot of my work became a very intense red. In Shiraz, when I think of the architecture, art, or textile, I see vibrant hues, mostly red. Even our food is filled with bright yellow and red hues.







Shirazi Red, 2019







Shirazi Red was created in late 2018 and evolved through almost an entire year. I became obsessed with improving this piece.


After leaving the loom, the piece was dyed in a pot of deep red. After, I applied Thiox (similar to bleach) to add depth in certain areas. Then, I manipulated the fabric. Cutting apart something that was so time consuming can be scary. I had been practicing with tiny scissors, working the landscape of the textile by separating the warp from weft. I wanted to create a falling apart/ almost ‘unweaving’ itself, but frozen in space. I encased the piece in glass and soldered it shut for this effect, with every string trapped inside in such a way that suggests the textile was fossilized (by a human).


When I created this, I was in the ‘experimental phase’ I’ve mention frequently. Trying to invent a way to finish a weaving which was unrecognizable. Forcing it in an unnatural state, by encasing it in glass and trapping it from oxygen. You are supposed to touch and feel the texture of a woven piece… what’s the point then?






Side view of a panel from Interwoven, suspended in air. November 2020.






NB: In your “interwoven” installation, we see the back and the front of these tapestries (very on brand for this under the rug series) I also see that you are introducing “the digital” and technology to this very ancient tradition with projections… Love to hear more about this fusion.




MN: When I began weaving the first piece for Interwoven, I was visualizing the textile as a piece of working technology—connections on multiple dimensions. This was achieved by studying motherboards and circuitry and mimicking its characteristics on the loom.



The panels were hung several feet from the wall so the viewer could naturally make their way around the piece and continuously discover new details. I wanted these pieces to appear as artifacts that held a valuable function.



I wove the fabric while imagining it as a digital image on a screen. Once that was achieved, I could contribute technological aesthetics, like playing with blue light. Most of the pieces were illuminated by blue light reflected onto woven monofilament (fishing line).



In the corner of the exhibition, there was a 100-year-old loom warped with monofilament and blue LED’S. This “analog machine” was something for the viewer to make the connection between the two technologies: the loom and the modern computer. (You can see all of this in action here… Monya Nikahd: Interwoven – YouTube )





Interwoven, November 2020



Practicing projection on weaving while on the loom. March 2020.






NB: I personally have been abstracting patterns from industrially manufactured rugs that have been designed by a software to make these patterns 100% symmetrical. I will often draw and cut these patterns and there’s a tension you know? Between my hand and the machine that made these patterns. The symbol of these patterns often shifts in my work from being decorative, to remapping occupied land.  When I saw some of your in-process pictures on your website of the rug functioning as a computer I flipppppped out! So, I am really interested in hearing more about these patterns in your work!


MN: When I weave, I let the line guide me through the warp. I practice with drawing, aimlessly doodling linework, mimicking circuitry/grids/linear connections. When I get to the loom, the line translates so differently. I have more control. With a lot of practice, the lines have become stronger and have different variations, from organic to constructive.






Examples of line variations, Interwoven, November 2020.






I also love to find patterns from old/current weaving pattern books which appear to me as digital, pixelated, or could potentially drift down a screen. I plan to create some of my own soon!





Just another failed experiment to try again later, January 2020.





The rug functioning as a computer is one of those “failed experiments for another time” I mention. My plan for last year was to weave Persian rugs and apply them to motherboards. The motherboards symbolized one’s distant motherland. The Persian rug symbolizing Iran, and the motherboard also symbolizing communication through technology. This is the way I’ve communicated with my family in Iran, something many of us with family in places with political turmoil have experienced for a long time. I want to pick this project back up again soon!



NB: What is it like being an artist/human in the south?  Culturally? Politically?


MN: Half of my family is from rural Tennessee, the other half in Iran. Growing up in two very different cultures; in love with Persian culture and the gatherings it held, and also growing to love the rural landscapes. There were many, many times I felt out of place in both. But, experiencing these two different sides-built character. I’ve become very adaptable to change.


Being queer in the south has been pretty similar, when I think of it. Growing up I felt out of place many, many times but gaining strength from these uncomfortable experiences.


I feel a sense of responsibility, personally, to stay rooted in the south for now. As a young weaver who is Iranian American and queer, I want to continue to connect with people in the south.  











Monya Nikahd is a weaver, craftsman, and multimedia artist. She is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, but has spent the past four years in rural Tennessee, focusing and evolving her craft. She recently completed a BFA in Fibers from Tennessee Technological University, at the Appalachian Center for Craft.


Her weaving process is intuitive and experimental. She uses unconventional medias with textiles including woodworking, encasing, and textile manipulation. Her life-long interest in textiles is connected to growing up in Iranian American culture. She finds her inspiration from the women of the Bauhaus school, old Persian and Asian textile design, and digital/technological aesthetics.


Instagram: @monernism



Nuveen Barwari is a multidisciplinary artist. She completed a Bachelor’s of Science in Studio Art from Tennessee State University in 2019 and is a 2022 MFA candidate at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Barwari participates in a transcontinental, improvisational exchange of materials between Kurdistan and America. This exchange often extends beyond the studio, installations and manipulation of materials and into performances, co hosting the Newave Podcast, and through an online shop called Fufu Creations that supplies apparel and art internationally. Fufu Creations was a featured designer in Kurdistan’s first ever fashion week in 2018. fufucreations.com