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Art and Activism with Muralist Cloe Hakakian

 

Photo credit: Cloe Hakakian

 

The first day of Rosh Hashana this year marks the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death. She was a young woman detained and beaten by Iranian authorities for violating the country’s mandatory headscarf law. To commemorate the anniversary, JFedLA and our Iranian-American partners are spreading awareness about the Iranian people’s fight for freedom and elevating Iranian Jewish voices. We interviewed Los Angeles artist, Cloe Hakakian, who uses her artistic talents to raise awareness in our community.  

 

Q & A with Cloe Hakakian: 

1. Just under a year ago, you created a powerful mural depicting Mahsa Amini, which served as both a protest and an artistic statement against the violence faced by women in Iran. Can you share your perspective on the connection between your art and activism?  

I have been very blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had, especially with the subject matter I was able to focus on for the Murals for Freedom project. I have always wanted to promote and perpetuate the value of women and help fuel the Woman, Life, Freedom movement however I can. Art has historically been an integral part of social revolutions. It can educate, inspire, unite, and, most importantly, amplify the voices of the silenced. Art serves as a universal language and a way to lend support to Iranians in this moment. Recently, bringing a daughter into this world has affirmed my commitment to women’s fundamental rights and freedom.

 

2. We had the privilege of collaborating with you on a Jewish community mural as part of the LA vs Hate initiative in Pico Robertson, an effort which engaged the larger Jewish community and the local Iranian Jewish community. How did your deep connection to Iranian culture and your commitment to women’s freedom in Iran find a voice in the artistic expression of this mural?  

Partnering with LA vs Hate was very exciting. There is always the tension between pursuing projects that allow me the opportunity for self-expression and those which are rooted in artistic trends which may more directly serve to further my career. It felt amazing to create art that represents my community. Painting a mural featuring Mahsa Amini was so empowering. That mural led to the partnership with LA vs Hate, Jewish Federation Los Angeles, and the ADL as part of the Summer of Solidarity initiative, allowing me to showcase the L.A. Jewish community and our beautiful diversity. Seeing everyone come together was an extraordinary experience and speaks to the power of art to help unify a community.  

 

3. What is your hope for Iranian women moving forward? How do you see art and activism continuing to play a role in shaping this vision? 

This subject hits close to home. My family was forced to flee Iran under threat of persecution. Being a Jewish woman, I don’t know if I will ever be able to safely go see the country that most of my family calls “home.” I hope we can live in a world where all countries, including Iran, value women and their overwhelming contributions. We are powerful, and it is a shame to see places like Iran blind to the benefits that women can bring to society. Seeing women’s rights movements like what is happening in Iran, and being able to contribute in my own way, is a very empowering experience. My art is inspired by the people that are cultivating this movement, not the other way around.  

 

4. What do you hope to accomplish when creating your art? What is the impact you want to have? Your dedication to raising awareness and creating change is inspiring. For those who want to support the cause and be effective allies, what actionable steps or initiatives would you encourage them to take?  

The power of the people is limitless and unimaginable. My goal is to contribute in the ways that I can. I hope that my projects encourage and motivate others to find meaningful ways to act, in ways that resonate with them. I think helping raise awareness about issues is one of the most effective ways that I feel like I can contribute. Awareness leads to understanding, empathy, and perhaps even activism. 

 

5. On the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death, what message do you have for the broader Jewish community and the L.A. community at large? In your opinion, why is it important that the Jewish community speak out and advocate for women’s rights and all basic rights?  

Mahsa Amini’s murder was tragic. Her death has served as a powerful catalyst to ignite the Iranian women’s rights movement. But let’s be clear: women’s rights are not only an Iranian issue; they are a global one. For me, it is deeply personal. I am a woman before I am Jewish and before I am Iranian. We must be rooted in the belief that humanity is a community. This should mobilize us to feel connected to the Woman, Life, Freedom movement here in L.A. and beyond, even if the origins of the movement began across the ocean. 

About Cloe Hakakian 

Cloe Hakakian is an Iranian-Jewish muralist and native Angeleno. She is a self-taught artist with a broad style and experience using many different types of media ranging from spray paints, oil pants, acrylics, watercolors, and everything in between. Cloe graduated from University of California, San Diego in 2013 with a B.S. in Neuroscience. In June, Cloe created a mural in Pico-Robertson honoring the Jewish community as part of LA vs Hate, an initiative of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations, in partnership with our Federation and ADL Los Angeles. 

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