Photography: Kelsey Bennett
Illustration: Panteha Abareshi
For 17-year-old Panteha Abareshi, art is the ultimate escape. Suffering from Sickle Cell Beta Zero Thalassemia, a genetic disease that leaves her in debilitating pain, Abareshi pours herself into her work. With vivid colors and inherent feeling, through her illustrations, the artist captures the essence of being a teenage girl.
As the subject of a new documentary, sisters Kelsey and Remy Bennett have teamed up with feminist video network, The Front to showcase Abareshi’s struggle and transcendence through art. Part of an ongoing series that shines a light on female artists, The Girl Who Loves Roses paints a stark and unflinching portrait of the reality of living with a chronic illness, and the toll it takes on Abareshi’s psyche. But what often times feels like a curse, also fuels the Arizona native’s work, giving it a raw emotional realness that even the best artist’s lack.
“My art is very much a visual representation of my struggles with mental illness, as well as a way of conveying my thoughts and emotions surrounding love, romance and sexuality,” says Abareshi. “All of my work is very personal and the reason a lot of it is so graphic is because I put all of the emotion I’m unable to express verbally into it.”
After stumbling on Abareshi’s work while curating an all-female show, Kelsey and Remy Bennett immediately knew they wanted to help the teenager create a space to share her message. In a culture obsessed with perfection and saturated with the white female body, Panteha’s power is twofold. Not only does her art speak strongly to the experience of women of color, it shatters the silence surrounding mental health.
“We met Panteha during the process of searching for artists for the last show we curated, and instantly fell in love with her work,” Kelsey explains. “We felt her voice, vision and particular perspective was so strong and vital that we wanted to create or promote any platform that could allow her work to be put out into the world.”
The six-minute short takes us through Abareshi’s experience with Sickle Cell and highlights the way making art has been her method of healing.
“With funding for the arts under attack, it’s important to create networks of support through art and tell stories surrounding the necessity of it in our society,” adds Remy. “We want to express the idea that art can save lives, and that it’s a crucial outlet for the youth of the world—and everyone.”
Featuring illustrations and a candid interview, The Girl Who Loves Roses provides insight into the courage it takes for Abareshi to explore her suffering, instead of shying away from it. The result is an unwavering strength present in all of her work. Through art, Abareshi has found her voice. The Girl Who Loves Roses makes sure everyone can hear it.
Watch The Girl Who Loves Roses, below, and check out some of Abareshi’s work, above.
Kelsey and Remy will host a screening of ‘The Girl Who Loves Roses’ alongside an exhibition of Panteha’s work at Larrie NYC this Thursday, from 6pm to 9pm.