Max Kazemzadeh, PhD, MFA
My journey towards understanding and championing diversity began in my upbringing as an intercultural Persian-American child within the Baha’i community near Dallas, Texas. Growing up in a community that actively embraced diversity, I learned from an early age to appreciate the richness it brings to our lives. The Baha’i Faith not only attracted a diverse group of members but also mandated a tireless commitment to combat prejudice, racism, and gender inequality within our communities. These values became an integral part of my life, and our home was always open to people of different races, backgrounds, and beliefs. This early exposure instilled in me a sense of kinship with individuals from all walks of life.
After high school, I founded Project Blaze, a group that traveled to K-12 schools and urban leagues across Texas to raise awareness about prejudice and provide strategies to address it. Through our performances and workshops, we empowered young students to become leaders in promoting racial unity in their communities. Our efforts were met with success, as schools reported a decrease in incidents of violence and an increase in the formation of international clubs dedicated to fostering harmony.
During my undergraduate studies, I transitioned from studying Biology/Pre-Medicine to exploring the intricate dynamics of institutionalized and individual prejudice, particularly concerning race and gender, through interactive artworks. This transformation led to the development of my Max is #1 series, which delved into the deconstruction of various forms of prejudice. These performances challenged societal norms and encouraged critical dialogue around topics of diversity and inclusivity.
My MFA research at Parsons continued this exploration, focusing on the impact of technology on human perception and interaction. I designed sensor-based interfaces that invited users to engage with one another in ways that exposed their racial, cultural, and gender biases. Projects like “A Seesaw and A Scoreboard” facilitated immersive experiences that revealed the participants’ own prejudices in the context of interaction.
In my PhD research, I deepened my understanding of the importance of diversity and individual transformation. I introduced the concept of Apophenoesis, a methodology that disrupts the creative process to uncover hidden significance, which can be integrated into interactive experiences. One notable project, “Gestures of Change” in Cairo, utilized computer vision to overlay deconstructed Twitter feeds onto gallery visitors’ faces, sparking discussions about perception, bias, and the role of error in creativity.
Throughout my academic and artistic journey, I’ve remained committed to promoting diversity and confronting prejudice. My experiences have shaped me into an advocate for inclusivity, and I continue to explore the profound benefits of diversity in both personal and professional settings. I believe that our differences are not obstacles but opportunities for growth, understanding, and positive change.
My work and research reflect this commitment, as I strive to create interactive art that challenges preconceptions, fosters empathy, and promotes dialogue about race, gender, and bias. Through my ongoing exploration of the intersection of art, technology, and consciousness, I aim to contribute to a more inclusive and equitable world.
Additionally, I completed a few Diversity training sessions over the past few years through work, and have completed many Diversity training sessions and workshops since I was a child through the Baha’i community including the Race Unity Dialogues, talked about in Ken Bower’s book The Power of Race Unity / Handbook for Neighborhood Race Unity Dialogues, that exposed aspects of racial and other prejudices through moderated open discussions, where use of language, past experiences, and individual perceptions/motivations were addressed as a step towards healing, reconciliation, and community building with the primary focus on establishing the “Oneness of Humanity,” a cornerstone belief within the Baha’i Faith.
During my work and travels through Texas with Project Blaze, our diverse 5 member group of recent High School graduates, studied and distributed The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue (also see the document in one page) to local governance, educational leaders within the schools, community leaders, and as many citizens within the communities we visited.
The mission of the Project Blaze team was to emblazon the vision of race unity throughout the many communities in Texas, by visiting schools, coordinating and engaging in service projects, meeting local leadership, and hosting city-wide events to invite members of the community to discuss and share their views on the topic.