#76: Sahar Pazirandeh
Sahar Pazirandeh left Iran with her family in the late '80s, when she was nine years old, in the wake of changes that followed the ancient nation's Islamic revolution. She'd spent her early years in the grip of Iran's new fundamentalist face; her own mother, a former IBM executive, had to leave her job and lost many of the rights she'd previously enjoyed. "What happened to her spilled over on to me," Pazirandeh remembers. The family settled in Denver, but the specter of that dark period still hung over her as she grew into a woman in a freer atmosphere.
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As an independent adult, Pazirandeh ventured to Florida, New York and Puerto Rico, excelling in careers as disparate as banking, accessory design, grant-writing, filmmaking, motivational speaking and salsa-dancing. But her fervor for equal rights eventually translated into a new way to empower girls. While living in Brooklyn, she created the first incarnation of the Free Your Star Foundation, which matches students ages fourteen to twenty with jobs in the fashion industry for school credit: "The idea," she says, "is to use fashion to trick kids into learning. That's my bait." And now she's returned to Denver, with hopes of keeping the good work she did in New York rolling here. To that end, she's been researching schools and areas where the need for such a program is great; tonight, she'll launch the project in Denver, as part of the Sie FilmCenter's new Hey Girl! film series.
Along with the ladies' schmoozer with shellac manicures and a screening of chick-flick Dirty Dancing, Pazirandeh, who calls herself a "fashionlanthropist," will be on hand to teach an on-the-spot salsa-dancing workshop; the fun begins at 6 p.m., and a portion of the admission fee of $10 will benefit a Free Your Star Foundation's 2014 spring scholarship fund. On May 8, Pazirandeh will give a short-story reading at Gypsy House (did we mention that she's an author, too?), and next fall, she'll partner with Fashion Denver for a fashion-career workshop for thirty high school girls. For more information on these activities, visit Free Your Star online.
Because we're glad the multi-talented emigre Pazirandeh is back in Denver, spreading her talents and dreams, we decided to give her our 100CC questionnaire and get her thoughts on giving back and moving forward in the free world.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Sahar Pazirandeh: Benazir Bhutto and Joni Mitchell -- can't pick one person with a question like that. These two women are definitely top on the list of inspiration and possibility. Both pose very distinct voices they do not apologize for. Sacrificing love and even life, these women have created their own sound, fine-tuned their message and expressed it eloquently.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
My mom has had me in awe most of my life, but in the last couple of months she has blown my mind. Her dedication to diving into herself and her spirituality to break free of mental barriers that have existed for most of her life is inspiring to witness. She is living consciously, not afraid to push herself to keep growing, to be a better and wiser person, despite how she is reminded every day (at work and by society) of her place in the world because of her age. Word, Mom!! Or as we say in Farsi, Kalameh!
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
I wish for all artists to be true to their voice. We are all digesting most of the same stuff, so yes, our work will naturally have similarities. I just wish for trends, in general, to die. For artists in all mediums to push through fear and clearly express who they are, despite what is being made by their peers (the process of breaking through and fine-tuning creates amazing things). I bet we would see a lot more distinct work. Even when "living outside of the box" as an artist, we wander into other perimeters -- mostly our minds playing tricks on us.
What's your day job?
Well, it depends on the day. Free Your Star Foundation days are filled with connecting with my mentees and the community, and always with fundraising for the next scholarship. On other days, I am speaking to students, women and professionals about my journey, how I lost my voice in revolutionary Iran and how finding it saved my life. Through speaking and writing, I share tidbits of my successes and missteps -- offering others a realistic way of finding their voice and communicating what they want in life with grace.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
The same thing I plan on doing now (although it may take me a bit longer): Traveling and inspiring others by speaking and writing about my journey and what I've learned from it. Growing Free Your Star Foundation to offer full-ride scholarships, as well as grants to women filmmakers. Launch Gritty Pretty Films. Build an amazing shoe studio to design and make my own heels!
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Offering better tax breaks for filmmakers would be awesome -- it would bring more opportunity to the community in so many areas. Also creating an artist community center with a reasonable membership to... use sewing machines, weld your jewelry or have a studio space for a photo shoot. You can find plenty of places to rent a desk, but I want to rent a space to create!
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Mondo Guerra. I was living in New York when I saw him on Project Runway, and seeing someone from Denver already had me excited. But then he started to design and, with that, unfolded more of his personal journey. I thought the way he faced his difficulty and found his voice through it was a very genuine process, and it was very cool that he shared it with so many of us. Besides that, his talent for tailoring and mixing and matching is all I want in my wardrobe -- funky and sophisticated, mmmhhhmmm. Si, por favor!
Throughout the year, we'll be shining a light on 100 superstars from Denver's rich creative community. Stay tuned to Show and Tell for more, or visit the 100 Colorado Creatives archive to catch up.
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