When art, culture meld

afghani woman
courtesy photo
soco beat 4-7-10
afghani woman courtesy photo soco beat 4-7-10

Jan Aijian creates giant metal sculptures, which adorn her property on the Mesa in Arroyo Grande. With the help and support of her husband, Peter, an emergency-room physician, she collects scrap metal from around the area.

Her 8-foot, 6-inch tall Afghan woman was prompted by watching the movie “Oussama,” about life for women under the Taliban. She then read about Afghan women getting to vote and how they were so excited that they dressed and made themselves up as if they were going to a wedding.

The woman is holding her ballot high with a smile on her face, henna designs on her hands, and is wearing an intricate, beautifully designed tribal dress with her burka (the facial covering women have had to wear in public) thrown back.

Jan’s interest in global cultures stems from her upbringing in several countries, including Spain, France, Italy and Thailand. She is currently working on a Spanish flamenco dancer.

She begins researching her idea on the YouTube, then draws a small pattern. From there it goes to a copier to be blown up to the large size she wants the sculpture to be.

The large copy goes out to Jan’s workshop, where she lays it on the metal and cuts the metal into shapes and then welds the pieces together. Parts of it will be sandblasted, then powder coated.

Another impressive sculpture is the Iranian poet, Hafiz, who lived in the 1300s. One of Jan’s favorite poets, he was a “compassionate Sufi mystic with a wild heart and a passion for life.” He is dancing wearing a swirling skirt and pointy shoes, holding a banner with a wise smile on his old face and stands 7 feet tall.

The Hafiz sculpture has a little belly, for the good Middle Eastern food. He is playful and mischievous, talks a lot about drinking (in a sacramental sense) and invokes the presence of God. Jan, a UCLA art graduate, who moved to the Central Coast in 2006, discovered welding in Visalia in her late 40s, when Peter found a welding class in the local college bulletin and suggested she take it. She experienced instant love, from the process of striking the torch, holding the flame to the steel until it became a molten puddle, to getting a pretty “bead” (a seam) welded together.

Now, at age 54, and with her three children grown up, she spends much of each day creating her sculptures. She loves the physicality of it — it requires whole body involvement. She took up yoga to make her back stronger, because she was lifting such heavy materials.

Another sculpture is River God, a strong male figure, who is standing in a river and pouring water back into the river. This is a god from Greek mythology. Others figures include mermaids, Moses, a Balinese dancer, a golden horse (“Footloose”) and “Deep Calls to Deep,” symbolic of the deep parts of God wanting to be in the deep parts of us, with a glass thunderbolt piercing him to the core.

Jan collects steel buoys, using them to create giant wings for such creatures as a gryphon, a mythical beast with an eagle’s head and a lion’s body. She also uses tractor discs to make smaller rounded sculptures that hang on a wall, such as a dancing elf, a mermaid and a nursing mom. With a plasma cutter she will cut patterns on them, brazing (melting brass) accents, and sometimes adding patinas.

Jan expresses a deep spirituality in her work, a love of God, people and the stories that compel her own journey in life. Her work can be seen at the Open Studios tour this fall and on her Web site, www.janaijian.com.

Anyone with story ideas involving interesting people in the South County can reach Gayle Cuddy at 489-1026 or nightengayles@aol.com.