When Elnaz Nourizadeh was five, her mother found her on the balcony of their home covering her body in clay. Nourizadeh recalls turning to her mother and telling her she was “making a sculpture”. It’s the moment that marked the beginning of her life as a ceramicist.

“My father used to visit a city in Iran called Lalejin which is known as a city of potters,” Nourizadeh tells Broadsheet. “Every time he’d visit he’d buy me a bag of clay and bring it back to where we lived, a city called Shemiran. It was my version of Play-Doh.”

The Melbourne creative’s practice extends across three modes: functional ceramics, sculptures and installations. Her functional work features kiln-made vessels – vases, mugs and bowls – painted with bright strokes of colour. They communicate a sense of curiosity, with abstract motifs painted both on the outside and hidden on the inside.

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“I have a really strong visual mind, I see shapes and colours when I talk to people and interact with the world,” Nourizadeh says. “I just transfer all of the ideas in my head onto my ceramics.”

Most of her functional pieces are made on a pottery wheel before being fired in the kiln and painted using a kaleidoscope of vivid hues. Colours are selected with a specific intention of making people feel calm and happy when they look at, eat or drink out of each vessel.

Nourizadeh’s sculptures are crafted using leftover clay from her functional ceramics. They are less abstract and more literal, usually depicted as bodies curled or folded over in a spectrum of positions.

“My sculptures are based on the idea that the feelings we have are never just one feeling, they’re a combination of many,” Nourizadeh explains.

As for her installations, they are tall, towering things made using clay, paper, paint and glue, designed to make you feel small when around them. Nourizadeh only ever installs them for a few days at a time and rarely promotes them. “If people don’t end up stumbling upon them then it’s not part of their journey.”

The creations have featured in all sorts of spots – from a house due to get demolished to the side of a busy highway to a secluded green space in Fawkner.

Craft has always been a big part of Nourizadeh’s life – her parents were lampshade makers. Growing up she attended pottery classes, sculpting classes and glaze-making classes, and sold her pieces to her parents to fund each class enrolment.

The maker studied industrial design in Iran before moving to Melbourne in 2013 and completing a Master of Fine Arts at RMIT. She then settled as a permanent resident in 2018. Instead of spending money on a lavish wedding when she got married, often an expected tradition in Persian culture, Nourizadeh used her funds to set up her ceramics business.

She cites many influences when it comes to her work, but chief among them is her Persian roots. “For years I was running from my heritage,” Nourizadeh says. “But recently I’ve realised how Persian philosophy, Persian poets like Hafez and Rumi and even the use of colour in Persian art has influenced my work. It’s impossible for my heritage to not influence what I create.”

Western artists like Joan Miro, Henri Matisse and Helen Frankenthaler, plus psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary, are also important references the ceramicist draws on.

Nourizadeh’s Coburg North studio doubles as a gallery and shop called Mesopotamia Art Space, where many of her ceramic pieces can be purchased. She regularly hosts exhibitions and artist gatherings, and rents out the space to other artists in the community.

You can also find her pieces stocked at Social Studio, a not-for-profit social enterprise (where Nourizadeh has taught short courses) that creates learning opportunities for Melbourne’s refugee and new migrant communities. “We’re all trying to find ourselves, and that’s especially true for immigrants that move to Australia,” Nourizadeh says. “Selling my works through Social Studio and donating my work to other causes is my way of supporting the community. Getting the chance to help people through my art is the best thing that’s happened to me.”


Shop Nourizadeh’s pieces at Mesopotamia Art Space at 62 Newlands Road, Coburg North or online

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.

For a look inside the studios of more local creatives head to our Studio Visit series.