Ani Khodaverdian of Telo Jan

Artist Ani Khodaverdian Empowers, Educates, and Inspires through Telo Jan

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LOS ANGELES — Artist, attorney, and candidate for a master’s degree in clinical psychology, 31-year-old Ani Khodaverdian founded her brand, Telo Jan, in 2019. Since then, Ani’s artwork has empowered, educated, and connected Armenians all over the world with each other and to the homeland. With nearly 7,000 followers, Telo Jan’s Instagram account is a space where Ani shares her artwork and creative process, mental health resources and information, and social justice and social awareness-centered content.

Between Cultures

Ani’s parents immigrated to Sweden from Iran, and Ani was raised in Sweden until she was nine years old. Although Ani only spent her early childhood in Sweden, she explained just how greatly that period of her life impacted her: “Attending Swedish public school really shaped my thinking because they are extremely progressive and environmentalist there. I grew up seeing women in politics and female priests, and even that at school, boys and girls would always play together. There was never a separation of ‘boys do this and girls do that.’ My parents also never put those sort of ideas in my head about what I can and can’t do. They are both dentists who studied and worked together, so equality was present in my own life and home growing up.”

Ani inherited Armenian culture and language from her proud Armenian-Iranian parents, but she hardly encountered Armenians outside of her own household.

Things took an exciting turn for her, when at 9-years old, Ani and her family moved to Burbank, a city with over 8,000 Armenian residents. Her Armenian identity became especially salient in Burbank, and at the age  of 10, she began utilizing the public library system to learn more about Armenian culture and history, particularly the Armenian Genocide.

Ani shared: “When I was 11, I had a philosophical crisis. I wondered, how is it possible that genocide happens? I read The Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian which went into the details of  the genocide quite graphically. I remember my childhood ending during certain lines of that book. I went into my TV room and started sobbing about it all to my parents. My dad sat with me for four or five hours and he explained that, yes those things happen, yes it’s unfair and that’s why it’s so important to be a good person and fight for justice so this doesn’t happen to anyone else. I read 20 more books about the Genocide and it became my cause at that time.”

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At 15 years old, Ani coordinated a Genocide Awareness Assembly at her school, Burbank High School, something which had never been done before in the school’s history. Six hundred people attended the assembly, which featured performances by Armenian rock bands, and speeches by notable Armenians like Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian and documentarian and talk show host Stepan Partamian.

After graduating from Burbank High School, Ani went on to study at UCLA where she earned her B.A. in philosophy. She then earned her law degree from Southwestern Law School. After graduating from law school in 2017, she took a life changing trip to Armenia.

Returning to Los Angeles after her trip was an emotional experience for Ani: “I was crying because I was thinking ‘why am I here?’, ‘why are we not living in Armenia?’ Armenia felt so much like home to me. I had never experienced that feeling before. In Sweden I was too Armenian and in LA I was too Swedish. I was always between cultures.”

Images from Telo Jan

Inspired by the sense of home she felt in Armenia, Ani applied to Birthright Armenia and stayed there for eight months in 2018. During that time, she connected with law firms, and film studios where she began to volunteer and work. When she completed the program she returned to LA where she began working as a litigation lawyer. This role was unfulfilling and unhealthy for Ani, and led her to depression; she stepped away to explore other options. 

Telo Jan

It is during this period in June 2019 that Ani officially launched Telo Jan.

Ani has been drawing since she could hold a pencil and she has used art as a way to express herself and deal with difficult emotions. Her creative process is one that’s constantly evolving and defined by her subject, her mood, and the equipment she has at her disposal. Once exclusively employing traditional artistic mediums like pen, pencil, and paint, she now experiments with digital art. Ani loves mixing mediums and playing with different processes to create her pieces.

Prior to officially launching Telo Jan, Ani became especially concerned with the virulence of sexism in Armenia and throughout the Armenian community. So, while in law school, she began creating Armenian feminist art which quickly gained a lot of traction on Facebook because she candidly highlighted topics and issues that are considered to be taboo. After receiving an outpour of supportive messages and videos from Armenian women thanking her for her brave work, Ani started the hashtag #armenianfeministrevolution.

She explained, “I realized I wanted to start making propaganda and pieces with strong messages because change is driven by media, art, movies etc. It became clear to me that we were all starving for work like this. There is a need for it- a gap that no one’s filling. That’s where Telo Jan’s vibe came from.”

“Telo Jan” is named after Ani’s paternal grandmother whom Ani was never able to meet but to whom she feels deeply connected.

Ani shared, “Apparently I resemble her a lot and I’ve heard many stories about her and the kind of person she was and from what I’ve heard, she was very kind, and straightforward. While the name Telo Jan is very Armenian, it’s also easy to pronounce in English. I decided from the beginning that the tone of Telo Jan was going to be very kind, tolerant and patient, which is all the things my grandma represents to me. I wanted to move forward with her same grace- to be nurturing, mothering, and inclusive. This reminds me how to maneuver this venture.”

Images from Telo Jan

 Philosophy of Kindness and Tolerance

Khodaverdian noted, “I mostly create things that I wish already existed; art that I wish I could have been exposed to growing up; especially as an Armenian woman and for my Armenian LGBTQ+ friends. Art makes people feel seen and understood, and in Armenian culture — women and LGBTQ+ are often ignored, minimized, and left in the dark. So, I try to bring women’s issues and LGBTQ+ issues to light and create a space for those marginalized in our community to feel heard and seen in a way that is positive, aesthetically pleasing, and thought provoking.”

Ani is an unapologetically authentic powerhouse who shares powerful affirmations and messages about mental health, fiercely advocates for marginalized groups, informs people about current events, and educates people about the Armenian language and culture through Telo Jan.

She explained, “My work centers around undoing the damage that our society and culture has done to us, psychologically, and showing people that it’s okay to be yourself and to feel all your feelings and to express yourself exactly the way that YOU want to (even if it’s not the norm/if your community isn’t used to it). With every piece I create, I know there’s someone watching that I hope receives the message: “I love you just the way you are” …so that they can begin to love themselves, too.”

The Armenian alphabet, language, and culture all provide inspiration for Ani’s artwork. She noted the importance of having Armenian artwork and letters present in the home as a diasporan Armenian: “I feel that it’s so important to have things in your home that let you engage with your heritage. I wanted to make Armenian letters and Armenian words more common in diasporan homes because language is the key that lets you access your culture in an authentic way. That’s why I teach people Armenian using baby steps, and helping them to not be scared or intimidated by the letters.”

Khodaverdian’s already significant impact on the Armenian community only continues to grow. Her most recent project is called The Telo Jan Podcast with Ani Khodaverdian. As a proponent of curiosity and exploration, she aims to continue educating folks about different subjects like sex, gender, materialism, mental health, religion, etc. through engaging conversations with various guests. In her most popular episode, Ani does a deep dive on the Armenian alphabet in the Eastern Armenian dialect. You can watch that episode and more, here: Ani Khodaverdian. Stay updated with Ani’s artwork and projects by following Telo Jan on Instagram! You can find and purchase Ani’s powerful artwork and merchandise including mugs, clothing, swimwear, keychains and much more by visiting telojan.com.

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