Who are you?
I usually define myself in terms of food, because it's what I love most. My cultural heritage is kebab and grits and kale—I was born in Iran and raised in the US South by hippies. I'm a digital media maker and community curator who is dedicated to centering the voices of women, immigrants and people of color. I'm also a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy and recently have been focused on producing films more in these genres. When I'm not running the grants and residency programs at Leeway, I'm usually involved in some fantastical storyline playing pretend with my 4-year-old, reading comic books, or watching sports games. I'm also an amateur DJ, spinning mostly music from the SWANA (South West Asia and North African) region.
How would you define your relationship with Leeway's community?
At Leeway, I feel like I'm part of a big experiment. I was raised by a scientist, so I often approach things in life with questions and openness which is important to any research process. For my mom, that is what kept life interesting for her when she was alive; she described life as a big mystery novel and each day was an opportunity to turn more pages and unveil more of the story. Even though I am in arts and culture, I see myself as still carrying on her approach. Leeway is this rare place where we get to experiment with questions about money, power and community, tangibly. Like, what happens when a family walks away from its wealth and fully releases their power to the community? What happens when we bring different people together in a consensus process to decide on the grants while also building community and trust with each other in the process? What would it look like if we valued artists' work outside of a capitalist or post-colonial framework of marketability or museum exhibitions? Artist/activist adrienne marie brown talks about modeling at the microlevel the kind of world we want at large, and Leeway is a place where we get to do that. It's not always perfect, but it's not about perfection. It's about continuing to show up, observe, and grow. And so that's what I'm doing everyday, together with the Leeway community-at-large; it's a mystery novel about liberation, and I'm excited to see where the story goes.
What role has Leeway played in your own evolution?
Before working here, my relationship with Leeway started as an applicant. As an artist, I was originally only making work from the heart and emotional level. The process of applying for Leeway grants (and sometimes not getting them!) required me to define more about why I do the creative work I do and think more strategically about it. Doing work to process personal trauma and address the lack of representation in the media is super important, but I really credit my experience applying to Leeway for pushing it beyond that to see how it connects with a larger picture. It helped me make the connection like, for example, it’s not just that I was isolated and depressed when I was younger, it is that I was raised with conflicting images of what it meant to come from a Middle Eastern country and what it meant to "belong." Experiencing the work of other Leeway artists inspired me to take those personal experiences to a mindset where I was thinking about it more systemically from issues of media ownership to foreign policy and war profiteering.
Leeway artists and staff also helped realize that I was part of something larger. It can be hard as a community based artist because you can easily put yourself down and think you’re just making these piddly little underfunded films or hosting small screenings, what change are they going to make?! But now, for example, you see all the conversations that are happening in Hollywood and television. No one person is responsible for that, but it is a result of decades of work by independent filmmakers and curators, which I feel excited to have been a part of.
If Leeway was a playlist, what song would it be?
Janet Jackon's Rhythm Nation. "This is the test/No struggle no progress."