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Meet Manaz Raiszadeh

Today we’d like to introduce you to Manaz Raiszadeh.

Manaz, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My name is Manaz Raiszadeh. I am full blood Afghan, born and raised in France, and now living in San Diego. My parents moved to France as political refugees from Afghanistan in 1983, and I was born in the small town of Alençon in 1986. We were the only Afghan family in town and even though we were clearly different, I still had a deep sense of belonging. We spoke a different language at home, our food was spicy, our music was exotic, and our eyes were bigger. But France was still my home. I enjoyed learning about my roots through my parents’ stories. I loved (and still do) listening to my mother’s tales. I drank her words hoping to feel a little of the Kabul she knew. Through her stories, I made up my own shapes, smells, and colors of Afghanistan. I created a little Kabul in my mind and it always resurfaced in my art projects at school.

Post 9/11, Afghanistan quickly became infamous and my sense of belonging started to fade. I was sad for the Afghan people and for the state of the world. A few years later, I moved to California and this was the beginning of my feeling of detachment from where I belonged. I moved to San Francisco to learn English and to finish my education. I was very excited to meet other Afghans; however, I realized that I didn’t relate to them very well. We had been raised in two different worlds even though our ancestors were from the same land. Simultaneously, I started to feel disconnected from my French background. I ignored the feeling for years and I promised myself to write about it one day. But that one day never came and when I tried to write, it didn’t feel natural. For years I debated if I should live in the US or France and I constantly felt torn.

I didn’t feel at home where I was born, I wasn’t fulfilled in the country that hosted me, and I was strangely drawn to a land that I had never visited. Everything fell into place when I met my husband in 2015. Cliché, right? I met him when I was a month away from moving back to France. My husband is Iranian-American and something just clicked. I found my home in him. We understood each other, more than our food, music and language similarities, we found our place in the world. He understood my fascination with my background and gave me the confidence to start expressing my emotions. Writing still didn’t feel natural, and I always loved painting. I casually painted in junior high and high school, and it always felt liberating.

In 2017 the strong urge to paint resurfaced. I gathered my brushes, paints and canvases and started painting everyday. Each morning I woke up hungry to paint and that feeling has only grown ever since. I was fortunate to find Art on 30th, an art center featuring my art, and where I am a mentored student.

Has it been a smooth road?
It’s always challenging to start something new. I was working in tech in San Francisco, CA. It was fun and comfortable. When we moved to San Diego for my husband’s job, I knew that it was time to jump into what my heart had been seeking for years. I wanted to feel and express my stories. I remember Googling two things: art classes and afghan non-profit organizations. I was lucky to find both, however, it was very scary to start something completely new when I had just found comfort in my tech carrier. I started helping Afghan refugees as a volunteer at the International Rescue Committee. I connected with Afghans who had just gotten to the U.S. I tried to give them some guidance on their new journeys and they shared their stories. I also found Art on 30th through my Google search and I took my very first art class as an adult.

I was terrified and felt out of place but I kept going back for more. I was hungry to paint. I started taking all the classes that I could and I painted everyday from my living room. Kate Ashton, the owner of the art center, has done an incredible job at building a unique community of artists. It’s a melting pot of kind, talented hearts. The community of artists supported me in my journey. I pushed through (and I still am) and I am now one of Kate’s mentored artists. Being a mentored student surrounded by very talented artists gave me the confidence to keep pushing forward. I feel so blessed to have found my art family and I express my gratitude through my paintings. My work has been very colorful and happy.

We’d love to hear more about your art.
I call myself an intuitional abstract painter. Even though the genesis of my inspiration comes from my parents’ tale, my paintings are not planned according to one story. My work is a medley of all the stories and emotions without a start or an end. At the moment, I use acrylic paint and mixed-media mediums to express my art. I enjoy the natural, unexpected and flexible aspects of these mediums.

I think that my paintings tell the stories that my words cannot. I am fascinated by the places we have been and the stories we are told. Painting brings my stories into life and eternalizes them. I paint to challenge myself and to share my stories with the world. I can sense my vulnerability and insecurities through my art, and it’s humbling to have them revealed. Art is my way to share a bit of myself with the world and to show gratefulness to the universe. The universe gifted me a French edge, a Californian dream, and some hot boiling Afghan blood.

I have listened to all of my parent’s stories and have imagined and created my own mental images of Afghanistan. I can smell the sweet perfumed fruits, hear the kids’ laughter, feel the warm Afghan sun, sense the humbling mountains, and see my parents strolling in their utopia. The stories and the words are not mines but the images I own. I paint to make a reality of my treasured Afghan images. I see and feel the colors of my paintings just like I see and feel my parents’ stories. I don’t think about it, it just comes to me.

You can also see French writings in my paintings. French words are more powerful to me as it seems to arise from deep in my gut. I write French words in my paintings, inspired by my Afghan utopia coming to life in sunny San Diego. My work may not scream Afghanistan or France, but it may remind you of your own childhood neighborhood or the walls of a familiar street. That is the beauty of abstract art. My work is personal, yet relatable to all viewers.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What I love most about San Diego is the ability to have such a varied experiences throughout the year. In one day, I’m able to have breakfast in a hip spot in Little Italy, go for a hike in Cabrillo, head to the beach, and finish by enjoying the arts in Balboa Park or North Park.

What I enjoy least is not having direct flights to France to see my family.

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