Pomona economics professor Niree Kodaverdian expresses creativity through art, modeling

A woman with long, brown hair wears a pink dress while sitting on a pink chair in front of a pink painting.
Professor Niree Kodaverdian at Pomona College is an economics professor as well as a painter and model. (Courtesy: Niree Kodaverdian)

Although she has painting, fashion and beauty modeling down to a fine art, professor Niree Kodaverdian teaches none of these skills at Pomona — instead, she can be found in the economics department. 

“I want to feel … that I’m inspiring [my students] to pursue their dreams, whatever it might be, even if it’s not in economics,” Kodarverdian said. “That’s how I define success: reaching the most people through my art and through my teaching.”

Kodaverdian discovered her love of painting in kindergarten, but it wasn’t until she was working on her Ph.D. in behavioral economics that she began to experiment more seriously as an artist. As a way to decompress during this stressful period, she would also run at the Silver Lake Reservoir in Los Angeles, which led her to a new painting style: geometric impressionism.

“I loved the water, and the reflections of the sunset and the clouds in it, and how it looks different every time I was running,” Kodaverdian said. “And I really wanted to communicate how I saw that beauty the way I saw it — decomposed in shapes and lines and colors. I wanted to be able to express that to other people. And I wanted others to see the beauty in the way that I saw it.” 

Since she finished her Ph.D., Kodaverdian continues to draw influence from natural beauty,  including Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia, Back Bay in Newport Beach and Corona del Mar in Newport Beach, California. At other times, something as simple as the color palette used in a magazine ad have become the impetus for a new piece. 

More recently, as the pandemic inevitably invaded Kodaverdian’s world, she began to notice the ways COVID-19 was appearing subconsciously in her work. Eventually, she began to embrace the pandemic as a more intentional part of her artistic process. 

“It just kind of came to me as I was behind the canvas,” Kodaverdian said. “I started painting what ended up looking like a pathogen under a microscope. And I was like, ‘Oh, interesting.’ It revealed itself to me, rather than intentionally me trying to paint a pathogen under a microscope, and I did a few of those as well. So I have a series of that now.” 

The Pomona professor’s creative breakthroughs did not stop there. She has started blending her visual art with her modeling work, posing side by side with her paintings to make new, multimedia works. 

Growing up in the dance and figure skating world, she got a taste for fashion and an audience at a young age. She enjoys the collaborative nature of modeling, with different individuals melding their visions into a single photoshoot. Kodaverdian always served as the creative director, on shoots, working in both beauty photoshoots and different collaborations and later in fashion shoots.

“That’s something I love about photoshoots — you can create any time and space you’d like, unbound by reality,” —Niree Kodaverdian, Pomona economics professor

“Some of my modeling work has included more traditional or classic looks, while some of my work has been more contemporary. That’s something I love about photoshoots — you can create any time and space you’d like, unbound by reality,” she said via email. 

These new works have served as a way to reconcile somewhat disparate interests into singular, cohesive pieces.

“I don’t have that much time to pursue everything independently full time, so I’m trying to combine my art passion together with my modeling passion and focus on teaching as well,” she said. “I consider myself a full-time economist and a full-time artist.” 

Kodaverdian became interested in economics due to its abstract and detailed branches.

“Economics was just the perfect field because it’s an umbrella field — it really has both a micro perspective, and it has a macro perspective. And you really need to understand the relationship between many different moving parts,” Kodaverdian said. 

She also had a knack for teaching younger family members. This early interest grew as she explored teaching opportunities in undergraduate and graduate education. Despite the disparity between each of her interests, she said all three disciplines allow for self-expression in different ways.

“When it comes to teaching, I’m conveying information and knowledge that others may convey in a completely different way. But I see it in my own way, and I try to convey it the way I see it.”

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