Ali Khoda, 23, is a local artist who participated in this year’s Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse. For the weeklong festivities, Khoda worked on a piece celebrating local First Nations culture in the tents behind the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
Originally from Qeshm, Iran, Khoda moved to the Yukon when he was 15 to avoid mandatory military service required of all high school students. When he arrived in Canada, Khoda did not know any English – something he says he was teased and bullied for by many of his peers. Khoda says he found comfort in a peer from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and learned English from his new friend in just over five months.
When he first moved to Canada eight years ago, Khoda was confused by the education system.
“I was terrified,” Khoda says. “Here education is industrial, like a factory. At home we teach out of love and respect – something I think we have in common with the First Nations of the Yukon.”
“A big focus of my art is First Nations culture,” Khoda says. “We are both originally from colonized countries and they accepted me with open arms. My art is a way of giving back.”
Khoda says he was first introduced to art when he was two years old by his uncle and grandmother through calligraphy. He says calligraphy is still important to him today as it is a way for him to feel connected to his family and his ancestors’ traditions. After years of practice and expanding his craft, the artisan was hired at 17 for his first commission – two murals at the Heart of Riverdale Dance Studio.
Since his first commission, Khoda has completed numerous murals in downtown Whitehorse, designed posters for local events and has learned to carve traditional-style paddles and masks. He works out of the Northern Cultural Expressions Society where he is currently working with other carvers on a number of projects, including a Tlingit totem pole.
“The main learning curve in my life has been trying to understand my identity and, in a way, human nature,” says Khoda. “You are going to be different and that is OK. It is not fair to change for people’s favour. We have already done too much of that.”
Now feeling included in the community, Khoda loves Whitehorse. He says that it is a unique place to be because everyone in the community seems to look out for each other and wants to give back.
“I have always loved painting portraits. There is just something about the expressions that can capture someone’s attention,” says Khoda. “I always start with the eyes. If you get the eyes just right, nothing else really matters. The story is always in the eyes, whether in a painting or in real life. You just have to pay attention.”
“I have spent some time figuring out that there are a lot of similarities across the planet, but people always seem to focus on the differences. I wish that was not so,” says Khoda. “Maybe that is why I love art so much – to figure out who I am and how I fit in with my community. You draw and paint what you need.”