Krista Nassi, an Iranian Jewish artist in her 30s, made it through Tehran’s Institute of Graphic Design and Architecture and earned a master’s degree in art from Tehran’s University of Art. But when the installation artist tried to have her work displayed in one of the state-funded archives in 2000, she was turned away. She tried to enroll in a doctoral art program at Tehran University but was denied — four times.
“When I asked them why they would not allow me to register, they gave me different absurd reasons and I slowly realized it was because I was Jewish,” Nassi said in a recent interview with the Forward. “Finally one of the assistants at the college told me flat out, ‘Miss, you are from the worst of the minority groups, so don’t waste your time trying to register.’”
Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Nassi has spent more than 10 years making a name for herself in the art world by focusing on some controversial themes — women’s rights, marriage and other touchy societal issues. She won a number of international art competitions, including a Gold Medal at the prestigious 10th Asian Art Biennial competition in 2002. And yet, because of this acclaim, she continued to encounter antisemitism from her colleagues in Iran, and was even slandered at one point after being called “Joohood,” a derogatory Persian word for a Jew.
“In one instance, after I won one of my awards a number of people came up to me and said, ‘You are a Joohood girl who thinks she can be something, but we’ll stop you from going any further,’” Nassi said.
In 2004, Nassi left Iran and settled in the large Persian community of Los Angeles, where she has literally started with a fresh canvas. She has been creating more of her installation pieces, with themes of Judaism and the Holocaust, which she had never been able to explore in the past, closest to her heart. At right is a selection of her work.
Karmel Melamed is an award-winning Iranian Jewish journalist, activist and attorney based in Southern California.