A photo of plants in clay pieces on a shelf
  Photo: Lili Tayefi

Lili Tayefi

By Meng Wei

Lili Yas Tayefi is an Iranian-born independent artist who moved back to Calgary after living abroad for four years learning and searching for her own artistry.

Since then she has launched a career in a perfect point of convergence—combining years of her multidisciplinary practices, her passion, her philosophy, and her heritage.


The Tayefi family immigrated to Canada when she was five. She would hang around in her dad’s architecture firm and attend extracurricular pottery classes instead of playing sports, so naturally, Tayefi went into a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary where she studied drawing and printmaking.


“I think creating art came to me naturally, and I had an affinity for math and physics, so I thought: I should be an architect, obviously,” she says.


And she dove right into minoring in architecture at the University of Calgary and went on to get a Master’s in Advanced Architecture at the Institution for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, in Barcelona, where she specialized in Robotic Fabrication and Material Science. She came out finding herself in love with traditional Iranian clay architecture as well as other sustainable, organic materials, with endless complimentary possibilities in 3D printing—such as affordable passive house designs.

A photo of Lili Tayefi
  Lili Tayefi | Photo: Sheena Zilinski

After coming back to Canada, she felt somewhat detached from the community she had found overseas.


“I was a little bit disheartened to find a slow mobilization of digital fabrication at an architectural scale in the Canadian landscape.” 


As a scholar and an artist, she reached out to Professor Bryan Cera at the Alberta University of the Arts and built a model of his unique clay extruder, the CERA-1, for her desktop 3D printer. She also got her own studio space at Workshop Studios, where she continued to practice her pottery skills in hopes of making expressive sculptural ceramics and 3D print product designs.  


“I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing if I wasn’t in my hometown,” she says.


The support came from her family and friends, who helped her to create a well-structured business plan in a locally absent market, and the professional art community who has been a resource in ongoing learning.     

Lili received a grant from Calgary Arts Development through the Project Grant Program for Individuals and Collectives.


“The most important thing CADA gave me was not just funds, CADA gave me a sense of confidence that what I’m doing is actually a valid contribution.     


“I think a tough area for most artists,” says Lili, “is that you are actually a small business owner: Branding and curating yourself while also finding the space and the time to create.” 


The pause during the COVID-19 pandemic has given her a chance to reflect inwards and find her artistic integrity that combines her passion and skills, so she can live a career as an independent artist. Where she is now is made possible by the support of the community, and she is working to bridge her communities even further by connecting people internationally.

A photo of clay pieces on shelf by a wicker chair
  Photo: Lili Tayefi