Azadeh Shladovsky

Rozae Nichols

In the fourth edition of our Makers Series, we introduce my cherished friend and artist Azadeh Shladovsky whose work challenges notions of perception while pushing the boundaries of spatial and material juxtaposition. Her study of visual consciousness is expressed through her art, sculpture, design, and interior architecture. There is courage in Azadeh's work that often explores our shared humanity of loss, grief, sight, & vision-senses that are experienced metaphorically and physically  in realms beyond literally seeing through our eyes. When I reflect on her intentions as an artist, I often think of Azadeh's work as Community Vision. Among her many fans, Azadeh's work is sought after by leading architects, prestigious interior designers, thoughtful art collectors and most recently was exhibited at L.A's only UNESCO World Heritage Site- the Barnsdall Park Foundation by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Where are you from and where are you based now?

I was born in Tehran, Iran and moved to Los Angeles when I was 4. At the age of 11 my family moved to Spain under very challenging circumstances. I attended high school in Madrid for several years before returning to LA again to attend college. I have resided in LA ever since.

In friendship, I'm honored to know of some of the deep complexities of your history and "vision" as an artist. Your work reveals a very empathetic way of perceiving - beyond visual sight and seeing. Can you share with us how your very personal creative process evolved?

Every life process has informed my creative process. The framework of my perception developed early in life, as a child immigrant whose identity was under constant scrutiny; I didn't look "American" enough and didn't act "Iranian" enough. The tools I developed to manage social rejection gave me early insight into group behavior and the human psyche. More importantly this experience taught me to embrace my individuality and see identity as something that is not fixed and restraining but something that is mutable and constantly evolving. Being an "outsider" allowed me to be an observer and explorer of the world, giving me the opportunity to integrate values that I hand-picked from my experiences. I've been unapologetic about challenging people's perceptions of who and what I should be. It wasn't until my daughter lost her sight, as a result of a brain tumor, that my vision of myself and my life came into clear focus. Since her passing, I have been dedicated to researching concepts rooted in visual consciousness, both social and neurological. These studies and my own personal evolution have formed the basis of all of my creative expression. Ultimately, what connects us all is our deeply human need to be seen and accepted.

Your art and furniture so beautifully co-exist as an intriguing narrative. Can you talk about the fluid correlation between your art practice and your functional art?

All of my work is rooted in the conceptual study of visual consciousness. How the expression manifests are defined by a process deeply guided by the physical nature of materials. There is always a moment where the ideas that I’m trying to express marry perfectly with a new way of manipulating how material is seen. The functional art is an extension of the conceptual expression and comes from my own personal need to have people engage their senses; I’m trying to communicate the idea that seeing is a multi-sensory experience that requires physical engagement. I never limit my ideas to one form of expression or another. The functional work is usually created simultaneously with the creation of sculptures, multimedia work and film.

I dearly admire your philanthropic involvement with our local unhoused population as well as your engagement in Prison Arts Collective both as a board member and a volunteer art teacher. This generosity of time & positive energy could be daunting to many- But I see it as necessary & energizing to your spirit. Am I close to a truth here?

The work I do outside of the studio is a continuum of the work I do inside my studio and my focus on advocating for communities that are systematically minoritized is integral to my practice and my life. It doesn't feel like work and the energy that I invest in assisting, in whatever small way, for others to be seen has a return that is a thousand-fold. Some of the wisest, most thoughtful, interesting, and inspiring people I have met continue to be those that are forgotten and marginalized by our social hierarchy of seeing.

I feel from your work gestures that seem to be triggered by the human condition and an extension of our urban environment. I wonder if and how the natural world & animals has also influenced your creative process?

The natural world / animal kingdom is the basis of all life and the ultimate model of art and design. As a materials artist, I am constantly inspired by what I see and experience in nature. Creating functional art forms that allow the natural beauty of materials to be seen, without over manipulation, has always been a tenet of my work. The tensions that result from material juxtaposition in my work is something that is ever present in nature if we take the time to see it.

Your studio is so beautiful. It’s your art studio, gallery and a place for community outreach. Do you have a favorite event that has uplifted your community engagement?

It’s been so nice to finally open the doors to our new and expanded studio space. It’s been a vision over a decade in the making and has met a lot of challenges along the way. One of the main reasons I wanted a bigger space was to engage our community through meaningful programming. In October we partnered with Lens on Life Project, a non-profit dedicated to teaching photography to at risk youth around the world, to showcase and auction the photography of Congolese youth from a weeklong film workshop led by Haitian born photographer, Philip-Daniel Ducasse. Although we were still in the thick of Covid, we had a tremendous turn out and were able to successfully fundraise for Lens on Life’s important and life-changing programming.

What is the most memorable message of wisdom or advice you have received?

A dear friend once told me that the key to happiness is learning to manage your expectations, of others as well as yourself. I hold myself to an incredibly high standard and am always working to learn and grow. I am so aware of our limited time here that I want to do a million things, all at once! Sometimes, I have to cut myself some slack and take the time and space to just be. I found that Covid really helped with this. I’m really learning to be more patient with myself and others.

Photography, Cristina Trayfors

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