Nooshin Hakim Javadi Takes Flight
At the April, 2017 MFA thesis show in the Katherine E. Nash Gallery at the Regis Center for Art (RCA), one of the first things visible upon entering the gallery was a giant airplane wing that seemed to float at eye level.
The wing was seventeen feet long and six feet wide, suspended from the ceiling by a single thin wire, welded to a plumb bob, turning almost imperceptibly in the air currents of the gallery. Beneath the wing, light glinted off of a pile of metal shavings, which were all that remained of another wing, laboriously ground down to almost nothing by sculptor Nooshin Hakim Javadi.
It was clear at first glance that it was a real, grey steel wing – weathered from actually flying through the weather, bolted onto the outside of an airplane, thousands of feet up.
I later learned from Javadi that it had been harvested from a scrapyard in Crystal, Minnesota. The wing itself was surprisingly cheap, only a few hundred dollars, but the task of transporting and installing the giant, heavy piece of hardware was far more challenging and expensive.
She is still in the process of finishing her MFA degree at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, but she and her wings are already getting international attention and accolades. This summer she is a Jerome Foundation fellow at the Franconia Sculpture Park along with her partner Pedram Baldari, and she just received word that she is the recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center.
I sat down with Nooshin at the Hard Times Café, a few blocks from the Regis Center for Art in Minneapolis, and asked her to tell me about her life as an artist up to this point, starting from the beginning.
Nooshin Hakim Javadi was born in Qazvin, Iran, about two hours from Tehran. She was a child during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and things started to improve in the region during her teen years, though her hometown was still very religious and conservative.
Her final show as an undergraduate occurred during the protests against the 2009 Iranian presidential election, she said, and her 20-foot sculpture was burned in front of the University to protect students from tear gas used against protestors. Early on, her aptitude was for math and science, but she attended The Conceptual Art Biennial at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art at age 17, where she realized that art could be more than traditional forms, and that it didn't have to be pro-war. She went into the sculpture program at the top-ranked art program in Iran, at the University of Tehran, during years marked by civil unrest and student uprising, tear gas, and imprisoned friends.
The art world in Iran was not particularly hospitable to female artists, especially someone like Javadi who was fascinated by a hybrid of performance and sculpture featuring sociopolitical themes and the female form. So, she and her husband and art-making partner Baldari started to look for international opportunities for artists.
Initially, Baldari had a residency in England, and from there they were both accepted to a graduate program at Texas Tech. However, Texas Tech was not much more receptive to Javadi’s performance work: “If you want to do work about Iran, go back to Iran,” she remembers one professor saying.
After two years in Texas, Javadi was ready to give up making art altogether – but fortunately for us, with the encouragement of Baldari, she decided instead to look around for other programs that might be more welcoming, and discovered the Regis Center for Art at the University of Minnesota.
With the help of a scholarship from the College of Liberal Arts, she was able to relocate for the three-year MFA program in Minneapolis. She was excited to work with professors Andréa Stanislav – a work sample of Andrea’s which particularly appealed to Javadi involves mirrored structures exploding in the desert – and Chris Larson, whose work with architectural forms she also found intriguing.
She is effusive about the emotional and financial support she has received, through all three years at the Regis Center for Art, and beyond.
The support I got from the school of art was far beyond what I expected – not only the financial support, but the emotional support. They were with me step by step. For example, one summer I received funding for a summer research project in Germany, and as an Iranian it's not easy for me to get a visa. They stood by me in the whole process, which took more than five months.
The executive order targeting seven countries, including Iran, was announced while I was working on my MFA thesis show. My advisor, the department chair, the director of graduate studies all came by my studio, expressing their concern and offering their help. I cannot find any words to express what that meant to me. It felt like a family.
High points of her experience at the University of Minnesota include a two-artist show with Professor Chris Larson, which she says she never would have imagined possible when she first discovered the RCA, while she was still in Texas. Professor Chris Baeumler also recommended her to be a part of a panel with the Guerilla Girls, major art world figures who Javadi studied in her undergraduate art program in Iran.
In the midst of her final year of the MFA program, Javadi was nominated by Professor Stanislav for the Outstanding Student Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture – and she almost didn’t complete the application.
Andréa nominated me, and I'm, like, I'm not going to apply for that, I was just so stressed out about everything. She was, like, no, you're going to apply for that.
When she ultimately received the award she almost turned it down because she couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars needed to ship and install her work in Kansas City for the awards ceremony.
However, when the faculty and staff at the Regis Center for Art and the College of Liberal Arts found out she was wavering, they coordinated to find her the funding at the last minute. Within 48 hours, the RCA had located $5,000 in emergency MFA funding, and CLA was able to chip in more than $7,000 more.
They all sent me emails, they talked to me, trying to figure out what to do. They all contacted me and they were, like, “you're not going to turn it down, we will find a way.”
Department Chair Lynn Lukkas was in Sweden at the time, Director of Graduate Studies Chris Baeumler was in Fargo, North Dakota, Professor Andréa Stanislav was in Russia, and Administrative Director Shannon Birge Laudon had taken the day off – but they still all made themselves available on short notice, along with help from Wendy Friedmeyer in the College of Liberal Arts, to find funding for the project.
The impact of all of this on the life and career of an artist is ultimately hard to quantify, and Javadi struggles to put the words together, but the emotion behind them is clear to me, sitting across from her at Hard Times.
I think finding that confidence, which is a really personal thing for me, was the effect of lots of different things that happened for me during my education here. How much people care about one individual, and how far they'll go to help that individual to achieve their goals. It was just so crazy… I think coming to this school made me believe that I'm an artist, and that's the biggest thing.