When Ati Ahkami immigrated to Canada with her husband and their three young children in 1978, her mother came, too.
She helped her daughter care for the kids while Ahkami and her husband settled in the new country, got jobs and learned new skills.
But her mother suffered a series of strokes over the years and, when she died in 2006, Ahkami’s heart broke. “I was so sad. I was very, very lonely.”
A friend helped Ahkami to pick up the pieces and took her to a class taught by Parvaneh Roudgar, a well-known Port Moody sculptor who exhibits around the world.
The Coquitlam resident remembers that day well. “They gave me a piece of clay to play with. I loved it and I started to work non-stop.”
While she and her husband ran their group daycare, Parkland Players, Ahkami was also busy in her studio moulding terracotta clay into shape — sometimes up to 12 hours a day with no breaks.
Often, she tried to recreate her mother’s face. Sculpting, she said, “deeply affected me. It kept me in touch with my feelings and took me to a place where I felt very comfortable. It was my own space.”
Her teacher and classmates were impressed with the quality of her work. After only two classes, Ahkami was presenting fine pieces that were comparable to a professional sculptor’s design, she said.
Today, her artwork primarily focuses on the female form.
“Ever since I was a kid, I drew the face of a woman,” said Ahkami, who has her bachelor of accounting degree from the University of Tehran. “I know how hard it is to be a woman. We have so much pain and suffering and misery in our lives, especially women in the Muslim world.”
Her portraits tend to be nude or partially naked, forcing the viewer to look further into the depth of the woman’s soul rather than fixating on her beautiful exterior, she said.
Now with Parkland Players sold, Ahkami said she’s enjoying retirement and plans to launch into sculpting full-time.
This past spring, she joined the Sculptors’ Society of British Columbia, which tomorrow (Thursday) opens its eighth annual exhibit at VanDusen Garden in Vancouver with more than 20 artists working in new and classic styles.
Ahkami will have three pieces on display — each of which took about five months to build — and she’s excited to see the show given that it’s the first time she has been part of one of the society’s events.
“I hope to do more,” she said. “It’s an honour to be included with so many wonderful sculptors and in such a beautiful area.”
• The 8th annual Summer Show at VanDusen Botanical Garden (5251 Oak St., Vancouver) runs July 30 to Aug. 3.