Soraya Sarah Nazarian
BY SHERRY DEAN CURRERI
Not knowing that they would never return to their home country, Soraya Sarah Nazarian, her husband Younes and their four children fled Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1978 for a better life in Los Angeles. Thirty-three years later, she’s now a renowned sculptor and philanthropist, who operates with the simple attitude, “I just like to help people.”
Last year, Mrs. Nazarian established the Soraya Sarah Nazarian Artists Initiative to provide emerging artists with studio and exhibition space in Los Angeles. Already well known for funding educational and arts projects in the US and Israel through the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, Mrs. Nazarian says the new initiative is born out of the frustration she feels for young talented people. “When I work with artists, I see they have no place to promote themselves. They often don’t have proper studio space. It’s very hard to sell and promote your own work in the beginningand that’s why I want to step in and help.”
Mrs. Nazarian says the dearth of studio space in Los Angeles is in great contrast to Italy, where she spends time studying and carving sculpture in the city of Pietrasanta, known for its marble quarries.
“In Italy,” she explains, “young artists are nurtured and are able to get much of what they need. I want to create an atmosphere like that and a place for artists here.” While the initiative will be open to visual artists working in all media, special emphasis will be placed on helping sculptors.
Mrs. Nazarian stands proudly next to a large marble sculpture called Hidden Woman. Her works are a reflection of herself: strong, yet feminine and full of heart. A recent one woman show featur- ing 25 years of Mrs. Nazarian’s sculpture at West Hollywood’s Gallery 817, was titled Strength Revealed, and featured more than 40 pieces.
Mrs. Nazarian is soft-spoken, with a warm smile and hands that don’t look beaten by her physically challenging art. “I wear two pairs of thick rubber gloves to do my work,” she reflects, while assessing her own hands. Though many of the works in the exhibit stand taller than the five foot six inch artist herself, her favorite small piece is a bronze version of a pomegranate. The pomegranate is also the symbol for the logo of the Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation, chosen as such because, in Jewish culture, the pomegranate is said to contain 613 seeds, which represent the number of good deeds Jews are supposed to do in their lifetime. Through her philanthropic work, Mrs. Nazarian will likely have no problem surpassing that goal.