When people say that the world is small and that there is only six degrees of separation from knowing someone, painters Sarvin Haghighi and Azadeh Hussaini know it is the truth. It took moving to Chicago and landing at Robin B Gallery for them to meet one another.
Unbelievably, their lives ran parallel in Iran. But here in the United States, their lives have intersected. Both women not only lived in Tehran, but also studied at the same university during the same timeframe, and share a passion for art. And, both have a parent that is a well-known Iranian artist. But the most interesting fact is that both of them were so influenced by their childhood and women’s suffrage that the sentiments of their homeland became the focus of their art. While each has their own distinct style, Sarvin and Azadeh, pay homage to their past while looking forward to their new lives in the United States.
Robin B Gallery was honored to speak with them about their past, present and future in one-on-one interviews.
RBG: Where were you born?
SH: I was born in Tehran, Iran.
AH: I was born in Atlanta, Georgia but then my family moved back to Iran.
RBG: Where did you attend art school?
SH: I went to school at Azad University of Tehran. I was studying Spanish there and creating art on the side. I took private art classes from the famous painter, Rokni.
AH: I attended art school at Azad University of Tehran. I received my Masters in Fine Art from the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
RBG: At what age did you attend art school?
SH: I began taking art classes at Azad when I was about 19 years old. Each week, for about 5-6 hours we would draw, paint, study art. It was a different assignment each week which kept it interesting. Class time was very productive.
AH: I began my university studies at the young age of 17.
RBG: What made you decide to pursue art as a profession?
SH: My mother, Nasrin Moghadam, is a well-known painter in Iran. She has been and is what inspires me to create works of art.
Sarvin and her mother, Nasrim
AH: Art has always been a part of me. It’s my passion and it’s what drives me. I knew from the time I was a small child that I would only be an artist. My father, who is an artist, also influenced me to pursue it.
Azadeh and her father, Reza
RBG: At what age did you immigrate to the United States?
SH: I was 34 years old when I came to the United States to live.
AH: I came back to the states from Iran a few years ago.
RBG: How / Why did you decide to come to the US to live?
SH: Love brought me here. I met my husband while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. We dated long distance for a period of time and it was really difficult – I was living in Dubai and he was here in Chicago.
AH: My husband practices medicine and applied for a position in the States.
RBG: How did you land in Chicago?
SH: Once my boyfriend and I married, it made the most sense to live in Chicago. My parents were in Iran, my siblings lived in Australia and I was in Dubai. My husband and his extended family all lived in the Midwest – Chicago and Indianapolis.
AH: My husband accepted a position with a hospital here in Chicago, so here we are!
RBG: Tell us your most memorable moment from your life in Iran.
SH: My most vivid memories are from my childhood and were during the Iran and Iraq war. My family would always go down to the basement once the sirens sounded. Now, as a grown adult, I am amazed and appreciative of how my parents handled such a stressful situation. They would put on a great face in times of trouble. They would entertain me and my siblings by keeping us busy playing games so that we wouldn’t be fearful of what was happening outside. We would play until the alarms stopped. I now understand how difficult this had to be for them. I am sure that it was harder on them than it was on us.
AH: My most memorable moments come from growing up in Iran. I specifically recall the war – and I was only three years old at the time.
RBG: What was it like to be a woman in Iran? How does it differ from the US?
SH: It’s not as bad as everyone thinks it is. Because I grew up there, it seems normal to me. I have always had amazing friends and a wonderful family that I could count on and who supported me.
It is different than the United States in many ways. Here, you can express your feelings, say anything – for or against something. There are also some cultural differences, but apart from that, it is not as different as portrayed by the Media.
AH: It is really the same as the United States, with a few more guidelines. But because it is what I grew up knowing, it is a normal thing for me.
RBG: How does your previous Iranian experience influence your art?
SH: Everything that I paint is somehow connected to my childhood. One of my paintings – currently exhibited at Robin B Gallery -shows hands lifted up trying to get back the Freedom, Hope, Faith that was taken away from my people. My inspiration usually goes back to my life experience in Iran.
AH: I derive my inspiration from my own life, the relationship between nature, people and culture. My work’s feature is an interaction of colors , forms and patterns, but the concept is my emotional respond to my inspirations. Color is the strongest visual element in my work.
RBG: Who has been the greatest influence on your life and on your art?
SH: My mother, Nasrim Moghadam – some of her paintings are influenced by Georgia O’Keefe. Also, my dad – Iraj Haghighi – is one of Iran’s best Civil Engineers of all time. One of his many masterpieces is the symbol of Iran – Shahyad Tower (Azadi Tower).
Magnolias, Artist Nasrin Moghadam
AH: My father is a famous painter in Iran. He has been the most significant influence in my life – and my art.
RBG: Do you still have family in Iran?
SH: Only my parents now. My siblings both live in Australia.
Sarvin (on the right) with her sister in Tehran
AH: My father, mother and extended family are all living in Iran, as well as my husband’s family.
Azadeh with her son
RBG: Do you visit often? If so, how much?
SH: I did during the six years when I lived in Dubai. I traveled to Iran every six months or so to visit them. I don’t get to Australia as much. Now that I am living in the United States, it is more difficult to see all of them.
AH: I visit my family every year.
RBG: Name the one thing, besides family, that you miss the most about your homeland. Name the one thing, besides family, that you love about the US.
SH: I miss my friends in Iran and Dubai.
I love the diversity of people that live in the United States. There are so many different things, you can always find something that you like – whether it’s food, clothing, art, whatever it is you are looking for.
AH: I know this sounds unusual – but I miss the crows. In Iran, the crows nest in the trees and the sound they make is sometimes deafening. I knew when I came to the States that something was different and I couldn’t figure out what it was – and then I realized – there wasn’t the sound of crows. It truly is an amazing sound and one that I identify with my country.
I love the American people. They are always so positive and believe that anything is possible.
RBG: What do you look forward to doing while living here in Chicago?
SH: I want to focus on my art. It is the first time in my life that I am able to spend 100% of my time on painting. Art has always been a part of who I am. And, of course, I love being with my husband, Andy, without whom I would not have been able to pursue my passion.
AH: I am so excited to be able to work on my art. Painting means the world to me.
RBG: What places would you like to travel to that you haven’t already?
SH: Paris, Berlin, Cambodia – Asia, in general.
Sarvin on Top of the World
AH: Outside the US, I would like to travel to Mexico, Japan and Italy. Within the US, I’d like to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
Azadeh enjoying the Mountains and Snow
RBG: If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
SH: I would love to meet the late Jean Michel Basquiat because his style is so unique. I would love to know what drove him to come up with his ideas. It is so sad that he died at such a young age.
AH: I would love to meet Charlie Chaplain. He was such a funny character on the big screen that I would like to be able to talk to him and find out what made (makes) him tick.
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