Shahnaz (“Shah”) Nia is the youngest child of immigrant parents who left Iran to escape the woes of the 1979 revolution. She was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Some of Shahnaz’s very first memories are of doodling and drawing human figures. Her mother noticed this inclination for creative expression and paved the way for Shahnaz's first real instruction in the arts. She visited Tehran, Iran, at the age of ten for the first time to meet relatives and spend the summer there. Shahnaz’s immersion into her own Iranian culture and heritage was critical in her artistic development. During that summer in Tehran, her mother orchestrated the opportunity for her to take private lessons under the late-renowned painter, Abbas Katouzian; a protégé of the court painter to several of the Shahs of Iran. He was most known for his luscious paintings of Iranian/Kurdish women and introduced Shahnaz to oil painting techniques based on still-life subjects and portraits. This summer experience in Iran changed her life completely and instilled in her a passionate love for oil painting. This served as a diving board into her artistic development over the next several decades of her life as she continued to sharpen her technical skill.
Shahnaz developed an unrelenting ambition to create artwork during that summer in Iran and she received various forms of recognition at state-level competitions through her years in school. She attended a state-funded summer art residency at Valdosta State University through the Georgia Governor’s Honors program in 2007. Fast forward to being half way through earning her B.A. in Studio Art in college, and Shahnaz decided to shift her focus to obtaining a doctorate in dentistry, in an effort to maintain financial independence. As time went on, Shahnaz watched the turmoil of the 2008 economic crash unravel around her and there was a great deal of uncertainty regarding what a career in fine art would look like. Shahnaz worked relentlessly to receive a doctorate in dentistry in 2016, and following that, her work as a part-time dentist has helped to sustain her financially as she spends the majority of her week focusing on what she loves more than anything else, and that is creating her art and learning about art history.
Shahnaz aims to explore and depict the visual and conceptual elements that reflect the modern human experience from the lens of an Iranian-American woman. Shahnaz values building a body of work that is independent of the pressures of making art that panders to the market for sales. Her intention has been to make work that stays true to her inner voice and poses questions to the viewer on topics such as female oppression and gender identity, inspired by both Western and Eastern cultural narratives.