Leila Nazarian with a skateboard.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Leila Nazarian was born in California and spent time in Iran and Paris, before returning to Santa Monica to launch Eclectic Decks.
It is a contemporary art and lifestyle brand that creates skateboards, fusing traditional art forms from around the world, on a modern-day platform.
Nazarian’s passion for travel, cultural diplomacy and the beach, all influence the brand: it is a mix of East and West, old and new, dynamic and laidback.
The skateboards are made in Southern California — the birthplace of skate culture — and the prints and patterns are sourced from artists around the world.
Each series in the Eclectic Decks collection draws inspiration from a different culture, taking time-honoured prints and patterns and juxtaposing them with the classic wooden skateboard.
“Whether used as an art piece, or on the road, it is our hope that these skateboards will spark your curiosity of other cultures,” says Nazarian.
She was recently in Dubai where she skated through the questions posed by Gulf Today.
Do you skate?
Well, I am not the best skater.
What is the element in skateboards that attracts you?
The counterculture element of skateboarding has always attracted me, as well as its roots and history in Southern California, where it first started in the 1960s as an alternative to surfing when the surf was too low, and then they
Began skating in empty swimming pools during Los Angeles droughts in the 1970s.
It has a very specific place in American popular culture and it is fascinating to see its influence and attraction all across the globe.
How different is your skateboard art different from that of others?
It is very different. Especially looking at the typical skateboard graphics which are highly influenced by the 1970s.
I wanted to create something completely different, unexpected as well as thought-provoking, by merging this signature object from Los Angeles with time-honoured prints and craftsmanship.
What led you to found Eclectic Decks?
While I was earning my Master’s in public diplomacy at the University of Southern California, I took a course titled “Cultural Diplomacy,” which focused on the role of the arts and culture as a tool in bridging different cultures to bring people together.
Since then, the idea of combining these two concepts stuck with me. Having been born in Southern California and given the skateboard deck's status as coveted contemporary art pieces, along with my passion for Iranian traditional arts, I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose this iconic beach-lifestyle object with art inspired by my Iranian roots.
I have dedicated Eclectic Decks to the exchange of different cultures through the creation of art pieces that broaden our collective understanding and promote dialogue.
The USA is called a culturally insular country. Is it so? How has your art chipped away this feeling?
My experience of living in such a multicultural and global city such as Los Angeles, I find the opposite to be true.
It is a hub for cultural diversity and has been playing a significant role as a subnational actor in facing global challenges.
It is also interesting to note that Los Angeles is home to the largest Iranian diaspora outside of Iran.
As an Iranian-American living in Los Angeles, I haven’t faced difficulties; but I can imagine that I would not have the same experience in other less diverse cities in United States — which is why I would like to expand Eclectic Decks’ presence in other parts of the country.
Since you are US born, has skateboard art helped you discover Iranian culture afresh?
It has definitely helped me discover Iranian art and culture in a very special way.
For my latest series of work, I travelled to Esfahan, a city in central Iran, where I commissioned one of the best artisans there to create Persian marquetry, also known as khatamkari, onto the blank skateboard decks that I had brought all the way from Southern California.
This elaborate process required the artist to fill each centimetre of space with as many as 250 pieces of metal, bone, ivory and wood, laid side by side and glued together in stages.
The interplay between the traditional and the contemporary serves to bring a new appreciation to prosaic objects that are often overlooked.
One of the most special things about this whole project has been the camaraderie and collaboration of ideas between myself and the artisans.
You have elevated the skateboard from being an item that is kicked, stomped and thrown in storeroom corners, into a cultural artifact. What has skateboard art done for you?
My artwork with the skateboard has definitely enriched my life as an artist by challenging myself to see things differently, and be much freer when it comes to experimentation, even if it sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable.
I think some of the most powerful art created by artists requires vulnerability to an extent and letting go of barriers.
How far have you travelled on the road? What more will you do?
I am still in the beginning stages of this journey, but hope to travel further by exploring new mediums and cultures from other countries, as well as encouraging collaboration between artists of different backgrounds.
These cultural exchanges take the participants out of their comfort zone and into an exciting cross-cultural journey, which can in turn lead to the creation of something completely unprecedented.
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