This year, for the first time, the top prize at a biennial exhibit of Tennessee Craft has gone to an artist from the state’s Kurdish community.
Aradini was brought to Nashville as an infant, and her work explores ideas of culture and displacement. She won the best in show prize for the embroidered portrait she made called “My Existence is Political.”
Aradini originally created the piece for the Frist Art Museum’s We Count: First-Time Voters exhibition. It depicts her friend, Drenusha Kolshi, who was in the process of becoming a naturalized citizen at the time.
“While interviewing her and hearing more about her story, it also reminded me of the time when my parents were going through the same process to become naturalized,” Aradini said. “It gave them protection, comfort, security. It gave them a new identity, rather than just being seen as refugees or immigrants. It was kind of like a mark of actually becoming part of our society.”
Being the first to earn a recognition can carry some complex baggage. In some ways, it’s an honor. In other ways, it’s easy to ask why it has taken so long. Aradini says being the first Kurdish American artist to win this award doesn’t mean that the city isn’t full of talented Kurdish artists.
“It’s just the way life is for immigrants when they come into a new country,” Aradini said. “A lot of life is strictly about survival and trying to make it into this new world that barely understands you, and you’re just trying to be understood.”
Nashville is home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States. Aradini says winning this award helps bring recognition to her community.
“I mean, to this day, I still meet people, and they’re like, ‘Who are the Kurds?'” Aradini said with a laugh. “And we do have a complex history, but one that’s very easy to understand. And so, it becomes like a history lesson. It also becomes a way for locals to know their community more too.”
“My Existence is Political” and the rest of the Best of Tennessee Craft exhibit is on display through mid-February at the Tennessee State Museum.
Listen to the audio above to hear host Nina Cardona interview Beizar Aradini on her work. The audio includes an excerpt of Aradini’s friend, musician Sarwar Abdullatif, playing the Kurdish saz, recorded by Pablo Zúniga.