SHIRIN TOWFIQ | SOFT & SENSITIVE / by Margaret Hernandez


Q&A with artist, Shirin Towfiq

Why soft and sensitive ?

Soft and sensitive was made from a place of just being tired and aware of everything that’s going on right now in our society and not wanting to be angry anymore and shifting to this place of becoming vulnerable.


Do you practice a faith? What is it ? Did your faith give you the strength to use your voice to ignite social change?

I am a member of the Baha’i Faith, a world religion that believes in all of the past major religions and one God. The Baha'i Faith's goal is to unify the world so it’s very social action and grassroots based. It’s about getting people to care about their communities and being of service in their daily lives. 


How do you decide what community to inform and create with?

I’m open to anyone that reciprocates my openness I think. I often don’t make premeditated decisions on who I work with but it comes organically out of the people I meet in my life. I don’t make my work for any specific audience but it is very much in dialogue with women of color- communicating to them and people who are not them. 


What's the significance of bread? How does it convey the message of social change?

Bread is historically thought of as a basic human right in almost every culture. A comfort that everyone deserves. Nowadays, bread is easily accessible in our society through the industrialization of food production; it’s not “bread” that we need anymore, now the basic human needs are immaterial—equality across all people, access to education, justice.

Do you find yourself overwhelmed and unheard?  What personal andsocietal problems leave you feeling soft and sensitive ?


What makes me soft & sensitive is the lack of understanding and compassion in my world. Where the world is at right now is overwhelming but that’s more reason to work hard, get involved in social causes, and to be on our best behavior towards others to changeour own families, and then our communities, and so on. Even the smallest actions are impactful and heard. The practice of making these videos for the show is personally important even if it's just for me to grow out of these places that make me feel like giving up and instead keep working towards these goals. 


How does this series relate to you personally?  Do you see the communal and universal connection from that? If so explain the relation. 

The series contains struggles and realizations/awakenings, this is naturally a part of my life and all of our individual and social lives, as humans we are highly affected by others and our environment. The series is not meant to show one specific social problem or solution but to suggest many different readings.



Most of your video work has no sound? Why is that?

I think there should be more instances of quiet, and it’s often not given to us. The work is allowing more of that space for reflection and bringing safety. 




How did you choose the people in your video? Mostly women and why? And why aren't you in the videos?

I wanted a range of people from many backgrounds, including a wide variety of ages and colors along with gender. The people in the videos are who I had access to and who were ready to volunteer to be part of a project like this. I’m in a few of the first videos but quickly realized I needed to be directing people and how they’re moving from the other side of the camera to get what I want.  


What are your HOPES for the world?

For there to be more empathy, compassion and understanding. 

How often are you eating bread and what's your favorite?

Ha probably everyday, I’m either eating sangak (a persian flat bread), or Bryan Truitt’s homemade sourdough bread. After eating his bread I can’t enjoy other breads anymore, it’s so good, he mills his own grains and makes everything fresh. 


Will you continue to expand soft and sensitive ? What would you include?

I still think that these are the beginning stages of the soft and sensitive project. It’s hard to say what will happen next, that comes with reflecting on the pieces over a period of time and getting more critiques on it.

Your favorite artist?

Jon Rubin.

Do you use your art to offload?

Definitely. I use it to work through my own personal problems even when the work may seem distant from that. 


What music do you listen to?

I’m not even sure, my taste in music is pretty eclectic. When this project started I was listening to Solange’s album A Seat At The Table non stop. 

What's your racial background and do you believe in intersectional feminism and why?

I was born here in Oceanside to two persian immigrants, so yes. 

What's a childhood memory that's still vivid today?

I used to wake up early every morning and walk to my grandmas house where she would braid my hair and feed me until my mom came to pick me up for school with my brothers. That moment we shared every morning makes me happy when thinking back on it. 

Youre a young woman. Where do you see yourself at 40?

Teaching and making art non stop still. 

Maybe even owning a business. 

Has your family played a role in your art?

I think so, often I consider them when I make my work. Their stories, who they are, who I am in relation to them. 

Is there a quote that best destined this body of work? 

I like this one: “The realities of things have been revealed in this radiant century, and that which is true must come to the surface. Among these realities is the principle of the equality of man and woman--equal rights and prerogatives in all things appertaining to humanity.” - The Promulgation of Universal Peace