Ambition

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Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Selina Zahednia (L-R) in Shayda (2023), written and directed by Noora Niasari. Image credit: Jane Zhang.
For 30 years, The Ian Potter Cultural Trust has supported emerging artists to undertake diverse professional development opportunities to gain new skills, expertise, and networks.

Grantees highlighted the importance of this type of support to their careers in a 2021 survey conducted to evaluate the Trust’s grantmaking. When responding to the question, ‘How important was your grant to your subsequent artistic practice?’ 92% of grantee respondents reported that their grant experience was very important or quite important.

Similarly, in interviews conducted for the evaluation, grantees shared how support to pursue these professional development opportunities not only allowed them to expand their artistic practice but also catalysed their creative output and reinforced their ambition.

One grantee stated, “I returned bursting to make new work. I spent four intensive years making, taking every opportunity I could”.

We wanted to further explore how the Trust's support provides momentum to our grantees' careers. So, we asked two grantees, ‘How has your grant and the professional development opportunity it supported impacted your ambition?'.

Kiah Pullens: “It has given me the confidence to take risks and transform a dream into a reality.”

Kiah Pullens

Kiah Pullens, final darkroom prints. Printed at recom ART Berlin (2022). Image courtesy of the artist.

Kiah Pullens’ practice explores the boundaries of the photographic medium, focusing on the image-making process, rather than the image-taking process.

Using digital and analogue processes, Pullens breathes new life into archival images, transforming them into largescale analogue prints often displayed as installations and sculptures.

Unfortunately, inadequate public access to colour darkroom facilities in Melbourne limits Pullens’ ability to create this work and advance her practice.

In 2022, the Trust supported Pullens in undertaking a darkroom research tour of Europe, visiting a range of professional, commercial and community facilities across London, Brussels, and Stuttgart and undertaking a residency at recom ART Berlin.

Pullens’ ambition was two-fold; to advance her darkroom practice, and to use the techniques, processes, and knowledge of analogue photographic printing and successful darkroom operations in establishing an open-access colour darkroom in Melbourne.

A year on from her grant project, Pullens reflects on the experience. “The grant allowed me to deepen my technical understanding of the darkroom process and engage with masters of the medium.”

“This training led to a personal artistic project of documenting the process of large image making using heat-sensitive cameras and producing large-scale photographic works.”

Pullens’ large-scale works, developed at recom ART Berlin, were exhibited in ‘The pleasure was all mine’ at ResArtis, Melbourne. The research project also led to the establishment of Wetlab, which will be a creative space for photographic artists to experiment with the medium of C-type printing through large-scale facilities.

Wetlab’s Melbourne premises are currently under construction to accommodate specialised photographic equipment; significant considerations include ventilation and temperature control. Wetlab will host the largest publicly accessible C-type printing machine in Australia and the only open-access colour darkroom in Melbourne.

“The funding from The Ian Potter Cultural Trust has given me the confidence to take the risks and transform a dream into a reality. Wetlab is set to open its doors in 2024."

Noora Niasari: “It gave me confidence moving forward and, ultimately, a great affirmation that my story had universal elements and a wide-reaching audience.”

 

Shayda (2023), official trailer. Written and directed by Noora Niasari.

Tehran-born, Australian-raised, Noora Niasari is a filmmaker who inhabits the role of writer and director. In 2017, supported by an Emerging Artist grant, Niasara undertook a six-week writing residency at the Can Serrat International Art Residency in Spain. The residency offered Niasara the time and space to develop her storytelling and screenwriting craft in a supportive and focused environment, which she utilised to concentrate on completing the first draft of Shayda, a feature film screenplay.

“The highlight was doing a public readthrough of the opening scenes of my screenplay to a room of writers from around the world, both from Can Serrat and a partner residency that visited that day. After six weeks of isolated writing, it was extremely gratifying to read those words aloud to an audience and receive a positive response from writers from completely different cultures to my own.”

“I felt a wonderful connection with complete strangers through storytelling. It gave me confidence moving forward and, ultimately, a great affirmation that my story had universal elements and a wide-reaching audience.”

Five years on from her grantee experience, Shayda, Niasara’s screenplay turned feature film directorial debut has garnered critical acclaim around the world. In January 2023, Shayda premiered at Sundance Film Festival, opening the World Cinema Dramatic Competition – one of 12 films selected globally for the category.

Set in 1990s Australia, Shayda tells the story of its eponymous character, a young Iranian woman finding refuge in a women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter during the two weeks of the Iranian New Year (Nowruz). The film received praise from reviewers for its deeply affecting storytelling and went on to win the coveted Sundance Audience Award (World Cinema Dramatic), voted by festival attendees.

Shayda’s creation was a long-standing goal and long-term project for Niasara. Reflecting on her journey over the past five years, from screenplay to debut feature film, Niasara emphasised the importance of balancing ambition with consistent self-care.

“Every step of making this film provided new lessons and experiences. I think, above all, it made me realise the importance of self-care, especially when telling a story such as this. As artists and filmmakers, we put so much heart and soul into our work, but we must be vigilant with protecting those things too so we can continue to make meaningful work without experiencing burnout.”

Following its success at Sundance, Shayda screened at film festivals in Australia and abroad and was acquired for distribution in North America and Europe by SONY Pictures Classics. In August 2023, Shayda was selected as Australia's submission for the Best International Feature Film category at the 2024 Academy Awards.

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