Born in Tehran, Iran, Behnaz Karjoo moved to the United States at a young age where she soon developed an interest in art. Her creative pursuits took a serious turn later in her life, leading her to study jewelry design and photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Inspired by her early memories of Iranian mosque architecture, illumination, and calligraphy, she soon thereafter pursued training in the traditional Islamic arts. In 2011, Behnaz began studying illumination (tazhib) under Mujgan Baskoylu, a master of Turkish illumination, miniature painting, and paper cutting. Behnaz is a member of New York Islamic Arts, an artist collective dedicated to keeping traditional Islamic Arts alive in America founded by Mrs Baskoylu. In 2016, Behnaz received her ijaza (certificate of mastery) from Mrs. Baskoylu. To expand her knowledge, she is now studying the art in its Persian variety under the guidance of Iranian illumination masters.
Tazhib is an art that has hundreds of years of history. Yet as more and more artists put aside traditional arts in favor of contemporary ones, its rich heritage is in danger of being forgotten. Tazhib literally means “to make golden” hence the abundant use of gold. It is a sacred art often used in conjunction with the art of calligraphy, decorating the borders of calligraphic renderings of the verses of the Quran, the names of God, the Hadith, and the poetry of the sages. Tazhib represents nature, the temporal, the eternal, the one, the many. It is a precise art of geometry and symmetry, involving intricate recurring patterns, yet it is flexible enough to allow for layers of multiplicity and variance. Tazhib can be viewed as a visual representation of the Dhikr of the Sufis. Its repeated patterns are like repetitions of the names of God as chanted by the Sufis in rhythmic unison, whirling around a center, which represents the Divine.
Behnaz has derived inspiration for her work from her love of nature, visiting traditional cities, praying in historic mosques, as well as studying manuscripts of past masters of the art. She has an eye for finding patterns everywhere, in colorful flowers in the valleys, in the spiral twists of seashells, in waves imprinted on desert sand, in ocean waves crashing on seaside cliffs, and in the rays of sunshine piercing through horizon clouds, all of which appear in her photography. She believes that tazhib is an art that connects you with God who is the source of all inspiration and creativity.