By Jeannine Ouellette
Photo Credit: Sara Rubinstein
Iranian-born artist Nooshin Hakim Javadi grew up in war. When she was a girl in the city of Qazvin, two hours northwest of Tehran, Iran’s capital, she was terrified by air raids. “My mom would pull my three siblings and me to her belly and sing a lullaby for us,” she says. “I could feel my mother’s fear—the tension in her body, the pounding of her heart—yet her singing voice would vibrate through her body into mine, and that soothed me so much.”
Hakim (M.F.A. ’17) recounts this early experience of how emotion and human understanding can travel through one person to another. We are sitting under a canopy of golden maple leaves on the banks of the Mississippi River discussing her work in both performance and sculpture, along with her most compelling inspirations and motivations as an artist.
Already, at age 34, Hakim’s accomplishments impress. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally, in Iran and Germany. In 2017, she received both a Franconia Sculpture Park Jerome Fellowship and a prestigious Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center—plus, a residency at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey.
Making art that emerges from sociopolitical themes, Hakim explores the spaces between individuals and cultures. She has ground down an entire airplane wing, excavated a dead tree root from its earthly bondage, and grown crystals on shoes using root killer. Hakim’s work is curiosity-fueled, testing the elasticity and boundaries of both ideas and materials, from maps to backpacks to steel, and increasingly, nature.
As for Hakim’s inspirations, she credits her artistic peers and teachers. “I was so close to giving up so many times,” she says, “but this community was amazing. I can’t say thank you enough times to my advisers and mentors, especially Chris Larson and Mark Knierim. And I’m excited to be teaching adjunct at the U of M spring semester.”
During her elementary years, Hakim was fortunate to attend a private school directed by her architect father. “And my dad was supportive of my art, as well. That mattered, because in Iran, when you decide to become an artist, it’s a very hard road, financially. Iran has few foundations for the arts and little to no government support, while here I have many more opportunities and far less alienation.”
Hakim’s mother worked as a teacher of sewing and fashion design. “Her work was something I really looked down on back home,” Hakim says. “Only after I moved away from my family did I come to appreciate and love the fabric and the creativity of sewing and design. Now, I love to bring those elements into my art.” Also important—crucial, even—to Hakim’s art is her passion for bridging the gap between disparate groups of people, which is partly why she and her husband, Pedram Baldari, dream of someday founding an artists’ residency.
“The idea would be artists from very different backgrounds collaborating with one another on projects,” Hakim says. “I have been so influenced by the artists I’ve collaborated with—Derek Glenn Martin, Aida Shahghasemi, and Katayoun Amjadi, and of course, my husband, Pedram. It’s transformative when you see two cultures merged together.”
This theme of bridging gaps between people crystallized gorgeously in Hakim’s 100 Lullabies project at “Humanly Possible: The Empathy Show” at Instinct Gallery in Minneapolis in 2015. There, she and her collaborators invited opening night guests to sing and record a lullaby for a refugee child. The inspiration came from conversations between Hakim and her husband, who is Kurdish, and their friends.
“We were all so upset about what was happening in Syria—we kept asking, ‘what can we do, what can we do,’ but we felt there was nothing. That’s when I went back to my own childhood in war and remembered my mom’s voice singing lullabies.” At the gallery, the lullaby singers were given private rooms in which to record their offerings, and the artists assured singers that only the recipients would hear them—one lullaby for each child. “We wanted to make it safe and private, so that people could really put their hearts into it, sing how they wanted to sing, without being afraid or self-conscious,” Hakim says. Ultimately, 40 lullabies were recorded in various languages— English, Chinese, Turkish, Farsi, and more—and given to Syrian refugee children in German hospitals.
“I like when the artists make the work, but invite others to be a part of the art making,” she says. “In my own studio, I become selfish, so I need that back and forth.” As for what will next manifest from that pendulum swing between self and other, Hakim doesn’t like to plan, but she knows she will keep exploring—and working to narrow—the spaces between us.
“Art is an invitation to something,” Hakim says. “You invite people and then you see how they respond. It doesn’t belong completely to the artist.”