This is to certify that Mr. Sayyed Hosien Zavar has been studying, from October 9th of 1931 to September 11th of 1934, Miniature Painting and Illumination at the Old Industries section of the Main Office of Industry and Agriculture with outmost seriousness and best behavior, and he has our approval.–Director of Old Industries
In a personal context, this document is a private artifact and a piece of my family history, which connects me to Sayyed Hosien Zavar not only as my grandfather but also as an artist. It always amazes me how little we know about the people who were/are so close to us until we start asking questions and making connections between fragmented memories and information in our lives.
My grandfather was born in 1904 in Mashhad, Iran and later moved to Tehran with his bother. He was always interested in art and painted all his life. In Tehran he studied Miniature Painting and Illumination at the School of Old Industries from 1931 to 1934, he married my grandmother when he was 33 in 1937 and they had five children. To support his family he joined the army and after retirement he dedicated his time to painting full time. He passed way when he was 63 in 1967 in Tehran. My family has kept some of his finished and unfinished works and numerous studies and sketches as well as his art materials and tools, which are valuable sources of information and inquiry about my grandfather as an artist.
In a historical context, this document is a public document, which is related to an important era of art and art education in Iran. According to Eftekhari[i] (2002), under the order of the government at the time, the School of Old Industries was established in 1930 by Haousien Taherzadeh Behzad. The mission of the school was to revive and restore the traditional arts such as miniature painting, textiles, woodworking, tile making and ceramics. I am curious to know more about the program of study and curriculum of the school? Who were the teachers and students? Who were their students later? What was the influence of the School of Old Industries on art and art education in Iran?
I also consider this document to have two authors. One is the Director of the School of Old Industries who wrote the letter and the other one is my grandfather who painted around the letter. The intension of the writer of the text was to certify that my grandfather, Sayyed Hosien Zavar, indeed studied at the School of Old Industries for three years and learned the required skills and knowledge for Miniature Painting and Illumination and he was also a serious and courteous artist. This letter was a verbal and official testimony to that fact.
Yet my grandfather also authored this letter by adding another layer of meaning to it through presentation of his skills and proving that what was written in the text was visually evident. He was clearly saying “Don’t take the words for it, see it for yourself.” On the right side of the letter where he has illuminated the wide margin, he is demonstrating his skill as an illuminator and on the lower part of the letter his skills as a miniature painter. The painting is depicting a woman holding a mirror and looking at her reflection. It not only shows intricate details of the woman’s face, clothing and accessories but also reveals the details on the even smaller reflection of her in the mirror and in reverse. Therefore this is also a “reflection” of the painter’s mastery. The relationship between my grandfather and the document is similar to a portfolio for an artist. This leads me to assume that the targeted audiences/readers could have been future employers or clients of my grandfather. Conceptually, he may have been also presenting the philosophical idea of artist as the tool for “reflection” of beauty or the notion of art as an agent for “reflection.”
This article focuses on the visual response of a contemporary Iranian artist (Farah Ossouli) to a painting by a Renaissance Italian artist (Leonardo da Vinci), and it discusses how and why Ossouli has re-presented an icon of the western art canon through her creative discourse. Also it investigates Ossouli’s use of visual re-narration as a pedagogical tool for offering alternative social, cultural and political perspectives.
This article is published in the Visual Inquiry: Learning & Teaching Art, Volume 3 Issue 1.
در ره منزل لیلی که خطرهاست درآن شرط اول قدم ان است که مجنون باشی حافظ
In the path to reach Lailee there are many dangers The first step and condition is to be Majnoon Hafez
Most Iranians know Lailee and Majnoon’s love story through Nezami Ganjavi’s book of poetry titled Khamseh ye Nezami (1192). In this story young Lailee and Qays (Majnoon) get to know each other and fall in love while studying at the same school. Qays asks Lailee to marry him but her father refuses and forces her to marry another man. The grief of separation from Lailee transforms Qays to a mad man (Majnoon) and he wanders in wilderness. Still in love with Qays (Majnoon), Lailee becomes ill and dies of heartbreak. Finally Majnoon finds Lailee’s grave and dies next to her.
In 2006 Farshid Mesghali was commissioned by KITMuseum in Amsterdam to create a sculpture portraying the final scene of Lailee and Majnoon’s story, in which Majnoon visits Lailee’s grave. Mesghali is one of the most eminent artists in Iran with an international reputation and remarkably innovative and influential artworks that remain unmatched specifically in the history of Iranian illustration. Saed Meshki, in an introduction to his interview with Mesghali in 2007[i], recalls his illustrations and states: “When my generation was spending childhood and adolescent years, Farshid Mesghali imbued the realities of our life with dreams and brought our dreams into reality. The stories of the Little Black Fish, Little Wizard of My Room, Blue Eyed Boy, Arash the Bower, Champion, and Moonlight Secretes were the frontiers of our dreams and realities.”
“Mesghali was born in Isfahan in July 1943. While studying painting at Tehran University, he began his professional career as a graphic designer and illustrator in 1964. After his graduation, he joined The Institute for the Intellectual Development for Children and Young Adults in Tehran, in 1968. During years 1970-1978 he made many of his award winning animated films, posters for films and illustrations for children books for this institute. In 1979 Mesghali moved to Paris and for next four years produced paintings and sculptures, which were presented at Sammy King Gallery in Pairs. In 1986 he moved to Southern California, USA and established his graphic design studio, Desktop Studio in Los Angeles. During 1990-1994 he created a series of digital artworks based on snapshot photos, which were exhibited in a number of galleries and later in L.A. County Museum of Modern Arts. At present time he is creating sculptures and installation projects in his studio in Tehran.[ii]”
Mesghali describes a specific series of his sculptures[iii] as “three-dimensional miniatures.” His reference to the traditional Persian miniature painting facilitates multiple ways of understanding his approach and style. To begin with, the term “three-dimensional miniature” is contradictory since Persian miniature is known for its two-dimensionality and the spiritual meaning of its depiction of space. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1987) in his essay ‘The world of imagination’ and the concept of space in the Persian miniature explains:
“The Persian miniature succeeded in transforming the plane surface of miniature to a canvas depicting grades of reality, and was able to guide man from the horizon of material existence, and also profane and mundane consciousness, to a higher state of being and of consciousness, an intermediate world with its own space, time, movement, colours and forms, where events occur in a real but not necessarily physical manner. This world the Muslim philosophers of Persia have called the “imaginal world’ (mundus imaginalis) or the alam al-khayal [or alam al-mithal][iv]…The space of the Persian miniature is a recapitulation of this space and its forms and colours a replica of this world. The colours, especially the gold and lapis lazuli, are not just subjective whims of the imagination of the artist. Rather, they are the fruit of vision of an ‘objective’ which is that of the imaginal world. The space is depicted in such a way that the eye roves from one plane to another, moving always between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. But the miniature does not allow the eye to ‘fall’ into the three-dimensional pure and simple.”
Farshid Mesghali’s artwork resides in this visual intermediate world. This is a space that is neither completely two dimensionally painted nor three dimensionally sculpted. It possesses many qualities of a Persian miniature painting with its subject matter, atmosphere, linearity, framing and colors (gold, lapis lazuli, green, and red). On the other hand it is composed of many separate components, forms and solid elements that occupy their own place in the space and also in relationship to one another. This space invites the viewer to experience the artwork from many subjective and objective perspectives and imbues the figures with spirits.
The subtle physicality of figures is similar to forms of the characters in a rudimentary pop-up book which although seem two-dimensional yet they occupy actual space and the eye can roam around them. Mesghali’s Lailee and Majnoon are surrounded by red trees, which create an enclosed and private space for the lovers. Shapes of the trees are similar to drops of tears or blood (matching Majnoon’s feelings). He is standing above Lailee’s lifeless body that is floating slighting above the ground. She is peacefully resting with her hand on her chest with a black face and red headdress. A bird is perching on the step behind Majnoon, a deer is standing close by and a butterfly is next to Lailee.
Mesghali (2006)[v] explains the process of creating Lailee and Majnoon’s sculpture, “First I went to my favorite sources, the miniatures. What did they [painters] do with this subject? There aren’t a lot. There are a couple of Majnuns [Majnoons] at the grave of Layla [Lailee] mourning and also Majnun [Majnoon] in the desert sitting with the animals. So I decided to show them together. It is the only time that these two are together. It is the time that Layla [Lailee] is dead and he is at her tomb. The whole time they are separated, the whole story… I didn’t like to do the sad part, but the whole story is sad. Majnun [Majnoon] is suffering the whole time. Still I didn’t make the tomb. I didn’t put Layla [Lailee] in the tomb…She is in the air. I tried to give it a kind of transcendence feeling—she is raised… Just the hands of Majnun [Majnoon] are black and cover his face. He cannot look at the tomb, but he has to be present. It is a difficult situation. I made the steps: green and dark blue and then Layla [Lailee]… It is from life to death. Majnun [Majnoon] is in the middle step, between life and death, the moment and location that they could be together. The bird is a symbol of life and the trees. Later I added the deer, because Majnun [Majnoon] was all the time with the deer or the lions… The butterfly is connected with Layla [Lailee]. It is a kind of homage to Majnun’s [Majnoon’s] life with Layla [Lailee].”
In Mesghali’s sculpture sorrow and peace coexist in this moment and intermediate world, which floats between the physical world (mulk) and the world of imagination (khiyal).
[iv] The multiple states of being can be summarized in five principal states which the Sufis call the five ‘Divine Presences’ (hadarat al-ilahiyat), and which Islamic philosophers from Suhrawardi onward have accepted fully as the ground pattern and ‘plan’ of reality, although they have used other terminology to describe it. These worlds or presences include the physical world (mulk), the intermediate world (malakut), the archangelic world (jabarut), the world of the Devine Names and Qualities (lahut), and the divine Essence or Ipseity itself (dhat), which is sometimes called hahut. The jabrut and the states beyond it are above forms and formal manifestation, whereas the malakut, which corresponds to the world of imagination (alam al-khayal or mithal), possesses form but not matter in ordinary Peripatetic sense. That is why in fact this world is also called the world of ‘hanging forms’ (suwar al-mu’allaqh), … Seyyed Hossein Nasr, ‘The world of imagination’ and the concept of space in the Persian miniature in Islamic Art and Spirituality, 1987, State University of New York Press, Albany.
[v]Farshid Mesghali, Interview, 8.5.2006, Tropenmuseum by Sadiah Boonstra & Mohammad Babazadeh
آن خطاط سه گونه خط نوشتی ،
یکی او خواندی لاغیر ،
یکی را هم او خواندی هم غیر ،
یکی نه او خواندی نه غیر او ،
آن خط سوم منم .
That calligrapher writes in three ways, One, only he can read it and no other, Another, he can read it and others, The other, neither he nor others can read it, I am that third way.
For over forty years Sadegh Barirani has allowed “the letters find their way and form” on paper. Using his self-made paint brush and poetry of Rumi Barirani has been visually capturing unique moments of meditation and excitement. Since his brush does not hold the paint for long and he has to write/paint fast, after a while his marks become illegible, abstract and independent. The result of this investigation is Barirani’s dynamic and rhythmic style of mark making which he describes as “a recorded cardiogram reflected on paper” that “registers his internal passion.”
Barirani is one of the pioneers of Iranian graphic design and well known for his distinctive poster designs. In1967 Barirani was commissioned by the newly established Roudaki Hall opera house in Tehran to design posters for their various performances as well as the Tehran Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. He was given total artistic freedom and also full access to the Graphic Arts Center’s workshop where he could create his silkscreen posters. Initially inspired by Polish posters, he created posters for ballets, folk dances, music recitals and operas and gradually incorporated his own expressionistic personal style as well as his signature black swift marks in his designs.
Sadegh Barirani was born on March 23, 1923 in Bandar Anzali, Gilan, Northern Province of Iran. He completed his elementary and high school in Bandar Anzali and Rasht and attended School of Fine Arts at Tehran University from 1948 to 1952. In 1953 he attended classes on film and photography held by the audio-visual department of Syracuse University in Tehran and five years later he studied at Indiana University and received his M.S. in Audio Visual education. Upon his return to Iran he became the head of the graphic arts department at the Ministry of Culture and Arts in Tehran. In 1973, Milton Glazer invited him to the International Design Conference in Aspen Colorado as a distinguished modern international graphic designer and in the same year he traveled to Paris and worked and lived at the Cité Internationale des Arts.
After graduating from the university Barirani became interested in learning more about “Western” contemporary and Avant-garde art movements and traveled throughout Europe and visited museums and galleries in London, Paris and Munich. But he soon turned to study of “Eastern” art and philosophy. He found inspiration in Sialk and Susa pottery, Persepolis reliefs, Persian miniatures, carpets and tiles and became fascinated with their meticulousness, simplicity, order and specifically the contour drawings.
Back in 1942 Barirani learned different techniques of painting in watercolor and oil painting under Amir Houshang Zarrin Kelk (Darvish) who was a student of Kamal-al Molk and also became familiar with mystical philosophy. In his interview with Saed Meshki (2006) Barirani explains
Iranian mystics are two groups. One group suppresses their excitements and has no movement …but the other believe that when the fervor and passion is boiling from the inside it has to be transferred to their bodies too; as you can see in the mystical dance of Rumi and also the dervishes of Kurdistan. Rumi also recited his poems in a state of passion and motion. The Iranian painters and calligraphers belong to the first group. The second group also engaged their bodies in their reciting and dance and movement. One day I thought of taking advantage of this motion and movement and express what we call “moment” and one feels onto paper and make it still.
One of the characteristics of Persian calligraphy is concentration and total mind/eye/hand coordination. A calligrapher is considers to be a mere instrument that is transferring the beauty of the divine into the paper and a perfect calligraphic piece is supposed to be produced painstakingly and with utter control. Persian calligraphy is not much of a kinesthetic art (as Barirani also hints) like Chinese calligraphy is. Dawn Delbanco (2008) explains that in Chinese calligraphy:
The brush becomes an extension of the writer’s arm, indeed, his entire body. But the physical gestures produced by the wielding of the brush reveal much more than physical motion; they reveal much of the writer himself-his impulsiveness, restraint, elegance, rebelliousness. Abstract as it appears, calligraphy more readily conveys emotion and something of the individual artist…
Barirani has been exploring traditional Iranian calligraphy as a medium and been inspired by two scripts of Nastaliq and Shekateh-ye Nasataliqthat he uses in his Siyah Mashq (Black Exercise) and Siyah Neveshtan (Writing in Black). In Barirani’s writings/paintings one can easily notice his individual style, passion and spirituality. Like a Zen calligrapher Barirani creates swift marks that capture a moment in time which hold great power. This is the power of living at present and listening to the inner self which results in evolving at every moment. Barirani’s brush strokes possess such energy and sophistication that force the viewer pay attention to their movements, details, tonalities, variety and authority. This is an authority that is embedded in Barirani’s mind, body and brush.