Sara Nahid was born in Ahvav, Iran. Nahid was exposed to the arts at an early age and she recalls her mother providing her with a paint set when she was about 10 years old. After completing secondary education in Ahvaz, Nahid enrolled in the prestigious Tehran University of Art, Iran's largest art university. There, Nahid pursued her passion for art by studying painting and sculpture. While enrolled as a student, Nahid shared her passion with a younger generation by teaching painting and ceramics to pre-school children.
Unfortunately, Nahid's education only lasted two years. She unenrolled from university after her father-in-law was imprisoned in an Iranian jail, and later died. Fearing for their safety, she and her husband fled from Iran to Turkey. Once settled, Nahid worked in a restaurant but continued to paint, although obtaining supplies was difficult. She and her husband lived in Turkey for five years and it was during this time that she converted to the Bahá'í faith, a religion teaching the essential worth of all religions, and the unity and equality of all people. Nahid, her husband, and their young son came to the United States in 2016.
Nahid both loves and is critical of her culture. Her work deals with her experiences as a woman in Iran and her transition to the US. Now living in Northeast Florida, she has a deep desire to move from a place of isolation into a community of belonging.
Nahid is one of eight artists who contributed to the exhibit (Re)Set the Table, now on display at Yellow House. (Re)Set the Table is a curatorial project of a diverse and creative group of students at the University of North Florida. Representing the fields of studio art, art history, anthropology, and communications, these students worked with Yellow House to create, curate, and program this exhibition. The exhibition asks visitors to reflect on their own narratives and the lived experiences of others by asking: Who sits at these tables? Who doesn’t and why not? How do individuals and communities create their own spaces for connecting, learning, supporting, and leading? What role do we each play in resetting the table?
Nahid will also be participating in March's Art Walk by exhibiting on Wednesday, March 7 with the Cultural Council alongside a diverse group of emerging and mid career artists from Northeast Florida. Works will be on display and for sale inside the atrium of the Police Fire and Pension Fund building, located at 1 W Adams St #100.
This interview was graciously translated by Afsaneh Baghai.
10 Questions with Sara Nahid
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
Most of the time, I make art at night when everyone is asleep. I like to create in silence. When doing a drawing, I place myself mentally into the situation or area so that I can see things from a different perspective.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic and cultural endeavors?
I have learned that I see people in a unique way. I've also learned that I like cubism as a visual art style.
How do you define success in what you do?
I express my feelings through my art and being able to do that feels like success.
Even while in the midst of turbulence and uncertainty, creating as an artist has remained a constant in your life. Through everything, why did you feel it was necessary to continue your pursuit of creating?
Being an artist is my passion. All these problems didn't discourage me from doing what I love. When I arrived in Jacksonville, some of the people in my life were practitioners of art, such as my friend Afsaneh and my teacher Amber. They, along with my husband, encouraged me to pursue my passion for making art.
What does the word community mean to you?
I think of community as an extension of family. I believe that through my art I serve my community. I also think that art adds beauty to an area and benefits the community.
Does your Iranian heritage and the Bahá'í faith influence your work? If yes, in what ways?
Yes. The Bahá'í Faith has taught me about peace, friendship, and equality amongst men and women. I exercise these all these ideals through my art.
Throughout your life you have been many things to many people; daughter, spouse, mother, student, teacher, neighbor, etc. The current political climate is such that both the US and global population are greatly divided on policies related to immigration. The words immigrant and refugee are now commonly used as a qualifying adjectives. How have your life experiences shaped how you see your own identity? Additionally, how do you protect yourself from having assumptions, biases, or misconceptions forced upon you as part of an identity given to you by others?
As Bahá'í, I believe that we are all branches on the same tree. As part of my faith, I respect people's ideas and believe in always being positive and kind. I cannot change the thoughts of others, but I can continue to be patient and radiate positivity. Eventually, my actions will influence others to be more open minded.
Several of the pieces you have on exhibit at Yellow House are figurative with parts of the form missing as if they've been removed like puzzle pieces. What is the origin of this series and are the missing pieces symbolic of something greater?
Yes, they are part of a series. The series is larger than what is currently on exhibit at Yellow House. For that series, I imagined another world inhabited by a group of people who think and act differently than we do. Each figure is experiencing difficulty expressing themselves. In the one image, a subject's face is depicted by prison bars. He's being silenced but his mind still grows like a tree. You may be able to silence someone's voice but you cannot stop their thoughts or beliefs.
What is the greatest challenge(s) you face as an artist working in Northeast Florida?
English is my second language so language is often a barrier. I have friends that help translate, but I cannot always express my ideas through words alone. Art is also valued here differently than it is in a major metropolitan area.
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector
I would like to see more promotion of the arts and spaces for art to exist, whether that be galleries or programming public spaces, which also need more plant life.