From EFAS to Emerging Artist

Thursday, January 28, 2021

How Behnaz Fatemi Graduated From Renison & Took Over The Canadian Art Scene

By Willow Carmount, ELI Programs Assistant


Behnaz Fatemi

When Behnaz Fatemi boarded a plane from Iran to Canada three years ago, she could never have imagined the way her life would change. Fatemi had applied for the English For Academic Success program at Renison, and was on her way to Canada to start her new journey. 

Like all students who uproot their lives and move to an entirely new country, Fatemi recalls struggling with homesickness and adapting to Canada.

“In the first few months I didn’t know anybody, and nobody knew me as a person or as an artist,” she said. “I didn’t have any clear view; you know, everything was different: streets, houses, shopping malls, universities, and all of these took away my confidence and made me stressed.” 

It is exceptionally challenging to make the decision to come to a new country, especially one that embodies such a different culture from the one you call home. Despite all of this, Fatemi was determined to achieve her goal of becoming a successful artist in Canada, and believed her first step was to improve her English.

Before choosing where to attend, Fatemi (pictured on the left in a photo taken by Magda Spurek) researched many English learning programs, but eventually chose Renison for its professionalism, plethora of activities and events, as well as the warm and friendly atmosphere that encourages long-lasting connections and friendships within the school community.


“I remember when I went to Renison for the first time; their greeting and open nature really impressed me, “Fatemi shared. “I felt it was the place where I could come, learn new things, and overcome my homesickness.”

Behnaz Fatemi

She recalled her time at Renison as being ‘beyond study’, because of the way Renison also teaches about Canadian culture, the city of Waterloo, and even how other international students taught her about a variety of other cultures. She remembers how engaging and passionate all her teachers were, and recalls feeling encouraged by how everyone at Renison truly cared about her success, and her as a person. As such, Fatemi has many happy memories from her time at Renison that she will cherish for the rest of her life, especially those made with friends she met at the school. 

“One day, some of my classmates asked me to spend time after our class together in a café. Because we had assignments to do for the next day, I said ‘oh, sorry!’. They insisted and told me it was just for one hour, so I finally accepted their request,” Fatemi said. “We went to a café. When we got to our table and sat down together, they suddenly opened a box and started singing ‘Happy Birthday’.”

It was this kind surprise from her friends that Fatemi said has become a moment in her life when she has felt truly and deeply happy. 


After her studies at Renison were complete, Fatemi felt much more confident in her skills as an English speaker, reader, and writer. Fatemi also grew as an artist during her time at Renison, thanks to Soheila Esfahani. Esfahani is a successful artist and a former lecturer at the University of Waterloo. She acted as a mentor to Fatemi, offering her advice and guidance that helped shape Fatemi into the person and artist she is today. Now, with her improved English and artistic skills, Fatemi was ready to further pursue her dreams.

Artwork by Behnaz Fatemi

Fatemi remembered searching for galleries on Google Maps, and visiting them each one by one to promote her art and network within the community. Due to her experiences in Iran, she was surprised by how many art galleries and exhibits there were in Waterloo alone, and was confident that she would find success within one or more of these galleries. 

For Fatemi, art has never been just a hobby, but a way of expressing herself and her points of view. She remarked that because Iran and Canada are two different countries with two different political systems, cultures, histories, and societies, her art is a union of two vastly different experiences. Fatemi is dedicated to bringing the thoughts and visions that this cross-cultural experience has brought her to life, through drawing, painting,  and other various forms of fine art. 



Emerging Artist Award

Flash forward to today, and Fatemi is taking the local art world by storm. One of her most notable achievements has come as being the recipient of the  Emerging Artist award by Arts Awards Waterloo Region. Fatemi said that as a person who emigrated to another country to pursue her dreams, receiving this recognition was an incredible moment. It made her stronger,  and has encouraged her to continue her artistic life and the pursuit in achieving her dreams. In addition to receiving this award, Fatemi has had her art in galleries, and even teaches workshops at the Clay and Glass Art Gallery in Waterloo. Fatemi is living proof that with discipline and dedication, you can achieve your dreams and goals. 


Sculpture by Behnaz Fatemi

When asked what advice she would have for someone coming to Canada to learn English, Fatemi said that it’s important for people to have a goal in mind. When you know your goal, it is easier for you to choose a program that suits you and stay motivated in regards to your studies. Like all things worth doing, learning another language is nothing less of a difficult feat, but with commitment and ambition, it can be accomplished. 

If you are interested in learning more about Fatemi’s experience, or supporting her as an artist,  you can visit her website or follow her on Instagram @behnazfaatemi. You can also participate in one of her workshops, or see her work at the Clay and Glass Art Gallery in Waterloo.