We had the good fortune of connecting with Ari Honarvar and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ari, why did you pursue a creative career?
The honest answer is that I didn’t choose a creative career. As it’s true with many of my peers, the art chose me. I was studying cancer research (melanomagenesis) in grad school when I was recruited by Nikon’s microscope division and worked in the biotech industry for a few years. I hadn’t really painted or written outside of technical papers for school. I had never considered earning a living as an artist. But the Persian poetry of my childhood kept beckoning me. I began reciting poetry aloud in Farsi, just like we did in Iran as a response to a question or to express an idea. To my surprise, people didn’t say, “Get her out of here—she’s gone mad.” Instead, they said, “That was so beautiful. Can you translate what you just recited?” And one friend said, “This is what I’d call ‘Rumi with a view’.” A seed began to grow and before I knew it, I found Rumi with a View and was painting, translating poetry, writing articles and books, performing on stage, and dancing with refugees.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
One of the goals of Rumi with a View was to build cultural bridges. Initially, I wanted to bring the beauty of Persian culture to Americans. I began making calligram paintings (turning Farsi words into images) out of ancient Persian verses because I didn’t feel that my translations were doing justice to the original poems. I poured my feelings about the poems into those paintings. And I amassed a few dozen pieces. But my friends encouraged me to translate the work of 13th-century mystic and poet Rumi anyway because up to recently the most popular English collections of Persian poetry were composed by white men who don’t speak Farsi. So I came up with Rumi’s Gift Oracle Deck which is a nod to our own Persian divination and also makes a bridge with the Western Tarot. I collaborated with another artist, Carmen Costello, on a good number of paintings that are featured in the deck too.
Around that time, I joined Musical Ambassadors of Peace and performed selected Rumi poems alongside wildly gifted musicians. I told stories of what it was like being a child during the Iran-Iraq War and how Rumi’s verses were a savior of sorts.
And writing was a natural extension of all that. I soon began writing op-eds and covering the plight of refugees and the border crisis. My work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Newsweek, and elsewhere. Last year, I published my debut novel, A GIRL CALLED RUMI, based on my own story of childhood friendships, family bonds, and what happens to relationships when an entire region is thrown into the crucible of political oppression and war, and the soul-saving power of myths and poetry.
Publishing a novel has been one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve taken on professionally. Underrepresent
Like many people, I’m beginning to consider artists as essential workers—books, movies, music, poems, and visual art help get us through hard times. My particular work centers around the intersection of social justice, wellbeing, and the arts. I aim to bring healing, joy, and social awareness through the arts.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’d ditch the car and hop on bikes and enjoy the Boulder Creek Bike Path for a couple of days. We’d visit the library, attend an outdoor concert or two, have lunch at the Dushanbe Tea House, have coffee at the Laughing Goat, and watch the sunset at St. Julian’s. I’d go on a few hikes, enjoy Chautauqua and other trails around town, and cool down in Boulder Creek. For souvenirs, I’d go to Boulder Nepal, and Into the Wind.
Then I’d take a road trip to Denver and enjoy Cheesman Park, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and have dinner at DOMO Japanese Country Restaurant. We’d time it so we can go to First Friday Art Walks at Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to honor the Boulder-based nonprofit Musical Ambassador of Peace (MAP)—especially their cofounder Cameron Power who passed away in February.
I met Cameron in 2006 at a Barefoot Boogie event. When I realized that he and his wife, Kristina Sophia, were the founders of MAP, I wanted to be involved. Together we put on Rumi performances with music to educate American audiences about the rich culture of the Middle East. At the height of the Syrian war, I joined them as a Musical Ambassador and held refugee drum and dance circles for Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, and Iranian refugees. Since then I’ve facilitated drum and dance sessions for refugees and asylum seekers in the US and Mexico. With MAP’s support, I developed a dance program incorporating resilience-building exercises and have held sessions with thousands of displaced souls—from women rescued from ISIS enslavement to Central American kids who had to travel to the US on their own to Ukrainian refugees now in London. I’m one of the several musical ambassadors around the world who are actively working to help heal wounds through music and movement. MAP has programs in Uganda, Gaza, the UK, Mexico, and other locations.
The MAP board is composed of talented musicians and humanitarians such as Tricia Irby, David Hinojosa, and Pete Jacobs. They have been working tirelessly to continue Cameron’s legacy of caring for refugees and I’m forever grateful for their support and camaraderie and for Cameron and Kristina’s vision.