Post-binary Aesthetics

Roshanak Keyghobadi | 2016

Categories such as Western, Non-Western, Eastern, Primitive, Modern, Postmodern art are based on assumptions that there are intrinsic qualities to “Western” or “Non-Western” art that determine their unbreakable identity. But such interpretive practices, in which an artwork is assigned an “essential” identity, have lost their relevance for understanding the complexities of works of art.

Aesthetic essentialism is seen, for the most part, as a philosophical tendency that goes back to Aristotle who writes: “the essence of each thing is one in no merely accidental way, and similarly is from its very nature something that is.” [i] Historically, it has also been part of what Edward Said calls “Orientalism,” and its philosophical arguments presuppose binaries of dominant and other that are intertwined with the political and economic interests of governing classes. Said thus argues that “Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, ‘us’) and the strange (the Orient, the East, ‘them’).”[ii] Binaries such as Western/Non-Western and us/them are not simply comparisons but rather a set of power relationships. It is through the concepts, categories, terms and vocabularies of Western that Non-Western is interpreted. Positioning the West in the “center” of interpretation of artistic practices and as the point of reference, limits the multiplicity of interpretations, privileges the West and displaces the Other/Non-West.

If we imagine an artistic practice as a structure with a “center” (such as the artist, viewer, location, form, function, materials), we would be restraining and closing what Jacques Derrida calls the “play of the structure.” As Derrida argues the center constructs “Presence”—what gives the illusion of proximity to Truth without difference[iii] and of totality as Truth free from “otherness.” The function of the center, he writes, is not simply to “balance, and organize the structure” but “to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call the play of the structure.”[iv] By “play” Derrida means a transgression of set limits, the emergence of the “other” in the “same.” In other words, this transgressive “play of difference,” for Derrida, subverts the hegemony of the center and marginalization of the other, by undoing the binaries on which they depend—there is no self-same identity, no “presence,” no essential truth. Each is divided by differences, transgressed by its other.

Post-binary aesthetics is aesthetics of play, of contingency, and mutations. It reads works of art not as “structures” with fixed identities (“center”), nor as simply different from another but as hybrid “events” different in themselves. It reads one artist’s work not as different from another artist but rather understands the same artist’s work at odds with itself, different in itself. Instead of seeking and fixing the difference of Western from Non-Western, a post-binary aesthetics unravels the differences of the Western and Non-Western within themselves. It demonstrates how an artwork can activate the transgressive play of difference, thereby breaking boundaries, disrupting the hegemony of the center and bringing forward the “other.”

An exemplary artist of such dislocating, mutating play is El Anatsui whose enigmatic, large-scale sculptures blur the borders of Africa and West. Discussing this in a conversation session at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 2013 El Anatsui was asked to what extent he encourages or invites people to look at his work in terms of African art and African history as opposed to the context in which it is now displayed that is world art and contemporary art? His response was: “I don’t think that is a problem for me. I know as an artist I am trying to reach out to people, no matter where they live or come from. So whether that’s African or Western that just doesn’t matter to me. I regard myself just as an artist.”[v] His response dissolves any center of interpretation for his art: it is neither Western nor African but both, thus blurring the boundaries of international/national, contemporary/traditional.

This decentering is evident in El Anatsui’s complex and colossal sculptures. Although large in scale they are made to be flexible and hung in any configuration with no fixed direction. From a distance they appear to be unified shimmering textiles or curtains, which have been compared both to Venetian mosaics and Vienna Secession fabric designs. However, upon closer examination, they are composed of many discarded liquor bottle caps that are folded, flattened and connected together with copper wires. But these caps are not simply found objects; El Anatsui explains their transcultural and politico-economic significance: “Alcohol was one of the commodities brought with [Europeans] to exchange for goods in Africa. Eventually alcohol became one of the items used in the transatlantic slave trade. They made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then it made its way back to Africa. I thought that the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa.” [vi]

Historically a piece of aluminum was transformed into a bottle cap as a single object that functioned to seal the bottle of liquor involved in trade of objects as well as humans. Presently a discarded liquor bottle cap not only carries this history but also marks “other” histories, and at the same time it becomes part of many bottle caps that are trashed or recycled in different ways or transformed into flattened metal pieces that are connected together with wire to form immense sculptures by an artist (El Anatsui) to be viewed as objects of beauty and value. As El Antasui also reflects: “I return them [bottle caps] to use by giving them a different function – a higher function – maybe even the ultimate function. Each bottle-top returning as an object of contemplation has the capacity to reveal to us a more profound understanding of life than it ever did as a stopper (on a bottle).”[vii] Through the “play of difference” El Anatsui’s art transgresses binaries—Western /Non-Western, colonizer/colonized, oppressor/oppressed, global/local, fine art/craft, treasure/trash, far/close, stagnation/flux—weaving one into the other, dissolving any “essence” in a rich web of multiplicities.

Notes:

[i] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book Gamma.

[ii] Edward Said (1978) Orientalism. (p.43)

[iii] Jaques Derrida (1974) Of Grammatology. (p. 43)

[iv] Jaques Derrida (1978) Writing and Difference. (p. 278)

[v] El Anatsui in Conversation with Susan Vogel, Brooklyn Museum of Art, February 10, 2013.

[vi] https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/global-culture/global-art-architecture/a/el-anatsui-old-mans-cloth

[vii] http://newafricanmagazine.com/el-anatsui-unstoppable-master-midst/#sthash.7EYaLjHp.dpuf

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2016. This essay cannot be reproduced, quoted, translated or published in part or as a whole in any format without Roshanak Keyghobadi’s permission.

* This article was originally published in NESHAN magazine #36 | Summer 2016

Image: El Anatsui, Trova, 2016 (detail images), Aluminum and copper wire, 122 x 117 inches, 109 x 110 inches (installed).

©El Anatsui.  Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Intermediate world of Lailee and Majnoon: The three-dimensional painting of Farshid Mesghali

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | January 2, 2014

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 KIT Museum 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).

©Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2014.  This essay can not be quoted, translated or published in part or as a whole without Roshanak Keyghobadi’s permission.

Image: Farshid Mesghali, Leili & Majnoon, 2006, Installation at KIT Museum Amsterdam, Height: 200 cm.

Farshid Mesghali: http://www.farshidmesghali.com


[i] Neshan Magazine #13, Spring 2007

[ii] http://www.farshidmesghali.com/bio.htm

[iii] Sculptures such as Farhad, Rostam and Div, River and Horse rider. http://www.farshidmesghali.com

[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
http://collectie.tropenmuseum.nl/othermedia/Document/TXT001667.pdf


Composing in Space: Tactile Poetry of Farhad Fozouni

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | September 2013

Farhad Fozouni is a leading figure in the contemporary Iranian graphic design with an international reputation and impressive list of accomplishments and recognitions. (1) Fozouni dares himself to get out of his comfort zone for the sake of creating new aesthetic experiences and meanings for himself as well as his viewer by creating unique poems. His tactile poetry not only reveals his continuous experimentation and discovery of new forms of artistic expression but also displays his desire to fully engage his viewers by getting them to touch and feel his words/images…

Read more here at Design Observer:
http://observatory.designobserver.com/feature/composing-in-space-tactile-poetry-of-farhad-fozouni/38096/

Mohammad Ehsaei and Hafez: Painting and poetry in dialogue

By Roshanak Keyghobadi | May 7, 2013

حریم عشق را درگه بسی بالاتر از عقلست
کسی ان استان بوسد که جان در آستین دارد
حافظ

The realm of love is in higher state than reason
The one who kisses the threshold of it is holding life in sleeve [1]

Hafez

Above are the third and fourth lines of a poem by Hafez[2], which is frequently numbered 121 in his anthology. According to Mohammad Estelami (2009)[3], the poem in its entirety discusses the value of love (in this case not mystical love) and its importance over materialistic wealth. The person who is not preoccupied with earthly possessions has a peace of mind, and indeed the one who has true love in his heart is the wealthiest. This is a state which neither logic nor reason can explain. In these particular two lines Hafez states that the realm of love stands higher than the realm of reason. One who becomes intimate with the realm of love (to the point of kissing it) has no fear of death. Mohammad Ehsaei[4]  has chosen these lines in particular to create his 1993 naqqashi khatt (painting calligraphy) titled Harim-e Eshq (Realm of Love).

The words of the poem are arranged in black and gold script resting on a red and gold background. Three Alefs and most Noqtehs (dots) are rendered in gold as is the center of the composition, where letters and words have created an enclosed golden space (realm). Just as the poem deals with the notions of happiness, wealth, reason, love, and death, and how concrete or relative their meanings are the connotation and symbolism of the colors fluctuate according to different interpretations. Red can be a symbol for love as well as death; black for mourning or reason; gold for wealth and earthly possessions or heavenly assets. Like most of Ehsaei’s naqqashi khatt works, it is difficult to read the poem and what is written in its entirety, since not only are the words out of order but also they are separated from their formal and linear format and context and rearranged in various spaces and locations throughout the composition. For instance, words may gravitate toward the central golden realm or burst out of it, yet the only word which immediately stands out and is the easiest to read is eshq (love), written in black with golden dots. As masters of the art of layering, both Hafez (verbally) and Ehsaei (visually) not only are in dialogue with each other but also set up the reader/viewer for a highly complex and sophisticated aesthetic quest. This is a pursuit for deciphering language, poetry, colors, forms and signs.

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2013


[1] Translated by Roshanak Keyghobadi.

[2] Khawajeh Shamsu Din Mohammad Hafez-e Shirazi was a 14th century Iranian poet.

[3] Estelami M. (Ed.) (2005). Dars-e Hafez: naghd va sharh-e ghazal ha-ye Hafez [Hafez lesson: Interpretation and description of ghazal’s of Hafez] In Persian. Tehran: Sokhan Publisher.

[4] Mohammad Ehasei is a contemporary Iranian master calligrapher and painter.

*Image by Mohammad Ehsaei, 1993, Harim-e Eshq (Realm of Love), Oil on canvas, 122×90 cm

 

Facing the present: Two Iranian artists interpret the postmodern age

By Roshanak Keyghobadi | October 5, 2001

Farah Ossouli is a painter and Hadi Farahani is a caricaturist. Although their style, technique and medium of their choice are different from one another, they are tied together by their use of traditional miniature painting iconography and introduction of the contemporary issues and spaces in their frame of work.

Ossouli studied traditional miniature painting under Mahmoud Farshchian and her knowledge and mastery of traditional miniature painting techniques and color combinations are obvious in her paintings. What makes her work differ from traditional miniature paintings is how she creates and divides the format and visual spaces in a modernist style. Her style of positioning the elements and figures in relationship to created spaces, and the contrast between shapes, colors and textures produces the feeling of simultaneous presence of past and present, old and new in her work. She creates constant interaction between sharp and soft forms, dark and bright colors, textured and flat surfaces, decorative and minimalist compositions in her paintings.

Ossouli selects formats that mostly consist of stripes of rectangular spaces crowded with female or male figures, trees, birds and flowers that are in contrast to stripes or planes of empty spaces next to them. In this style, Ossouli puts congested against void and enclosed against open. She invites you inside and yet shows you the outside. The dark and muddy colors are sitting beside brilliant and radiant colors in her paintings as if she is drawing the attention of the viewer to life’s dual concepts.

Titles such as, Nest and Flight, Meeting Night, Beginning and End, Khosrow and Shirin, Yousef and Zolaykha indicates that Ossouli’s subject matters are mostly poetic or based on famous stories like Shahnameh-ye Ferdowsi, Divan-e Hafiz, and other classic writings . Her compositions and choice of colors create calm and quite. It is as if Ossouli’s miniature beings had accepted their place in this contrasting environment and are in harmony with their painted faith, although their stripes of rectangular lives are getting narrower and tighter and Ossouli is covering their surrounding with more void and dark planes.

Are Ossouli’s miniature people representing the past or the present? Why Ossouli selects this kind of format for her paintings? Are her contrasting spaces squeezing the colorful miniature beings and narrowing their windows of existence or broadening their landscape of vision? Are these people peeking through Ossuli’s windows to see and explore environment of present or are they inviting us into their world of past?

The visual binary codes of representation are working full force in Farahani’s pen and ink caricatures drawings where ornamental miniature men and women are in contrast with their erased traditional ornamental environment, space and existence. Farahani’s characters are not situated in traditional miniature scenes, participating in majestic garden parties or hunting scene or looking from balconies in to their lover’s eyes. The past lovers are involved in present daily chores of the real life and present time.

Outside the story books, the princess/lover/wife is washing her royal wash and hanging it from the cloth line or knitting clothes for her unborn child while the prince/lover/husband figure is enjoying his nap or smoking his water pipe high up in the veranda. Aside from his male and female figures and their humorous relationships to a totally modern life, Farahani depicts his ornamental miniature man in contrast to the visually minimal contemporary man.

Unlike Ossouli’s isolated and contained person, Hadi Farahani’s miniature person is busy and involved in present and is trying to blend in, understand, imitate, fight, liberate, escape, survive or recover from this world and its minimal mostly dominant and cruel people. The title of Farahani’s book of caricatures is Zir-O-Zebar (bottom & top or high & low in Persian) and his caricatures clearly represent the icons of the past or symbols that are associated with traditional Eastern person, which is a delicate miniature drawing, situated lower than the solid and powerful icons and symbols of the modern, contemporary Western beings who are higher up in status and power structure.

Unlike Ossouli’s paintings that encourages calm and quite, Farahani’s dark humor is reflected in his powerful caricatures that are packed with social, political and artistic statements and questions. By creating opposing situations and conditions in his drawings, he asks: how do one deals with technology, colonialization, westernization, contemporary art issues, mental isolation and depression, pollution, poverty, alienation and annihilation? Is Farahani depicting defeat or triumph? How is his miniature person dealing with his/her present situation? Is modern life with its highs and lows offering any hope and encouragement?

Ossouli and Farahani’s works are similar in the way they are responding to the Postmodern era and interpreting the past in relationship to present and how they blend together the elements of old and new in their art. Both artists are facing the present and the contemporary time, and portraying how humankind deals with the Postmodern life, age of anxiety and illusion, fragmentation and alienation. But what makes their artwork different is that Ossouli is making peace with present where Farahani is questioning it.

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2001.

*This review was first published on http://www.Iranian.com in 2001. Since then both artists have created remarkable works which you can view at http://www.farahossouli.com and http://www.hadifarahani.com.
Images: (Left) Painting by Farah Ossouli, (Right) Caricature by Hadi Farahani.

Homa Delvaray: A contemporary Iranian graphic designer and her mission

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | December 8, 2010

In November 2007, a group of young graphic designers from various parts of Iran who grew up after Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 put together a poster exhibition called Rokhsat. As they explained in the exhibition statement, in Iran’s traditional sports, a young wrestler asks for rokhsat (permission) from the elders when he presents in the ring. The group demanded rokhsat from the generations before them (and their viewers) to present their design innovations and artistic visions. This was an open invitation for a glimpse at contemporary design practices in Iran and specially a venue for identifying the new generation of Iranian women designers1.

In contemporary Iran vigorous engagement by a large group of women graphic designers in all aspects of design practice and pedagogy has been an undeniably powerful force, and their presence in the national and international art and design arenas is making the new face of Iranian graphic design visible. Among this group one designer stands out for her unique style and extraordinary personal visual language: Homa Delvaray.

Delvaray is not only active in designing posters, books, CD covers, logos and creating Persian and Roman fonts, but also teaches college-level drawing and illustration, serves as an editorial board member of Dabireh2 design collective and Rang Magazine (a graphic design magazine online). She regularly exhibits her work inside and outside Iran, and her designs have been featured in several national and international publications related to design and typography.

In an introduction to her recent virtual exhibition3, Delvaray declares that “the essence of art is creativity and confrontation.” She explains: “I do not believe that transmitting the client’s message to the viewer in the easiest possible way is the only mission of the graphic designer… If a graphic designer is supposed to have a commitment, it would be finding a new way of communication for what he/she has to say in order to relate to the viewer. There are no pre-assigned general rules to help achieve this goal sooner. The designer has to choose and try new approaches to challenge himself/herself.” Delvaray believes that by simplifying design and making it obvious to the viewer a designer would insult the intelligence of the viewer and assumes that they are not able to “solve a simple riddle” or “comprehend complicated relationships.”

Delvaray’s works can be described as complex, enigmatic, dynamic, challenging, packed (conceptually and formally), and of course confrontational. Her wayfinding and experiments may start with basic typographic practices but end up with highly sophisticated design methods and approaches. Learning from visual traditions of Iran, from miniature painting and lithography to metal work and carpet designs, Delvaray layers, twists, turns, stretches, stitches, weaves and gives dimension to elements of her designs and paints them with vibrant colors associated with Iranian arts and crafts.

What makes Delvaray works challenging and confrontational is the way she mixes and matches local and global cultural codes and signs and simultaneously conceals and reveals the intentions of her designs. She actively involves her viewers by presenting them with fascinating formal and conceptual visual conundrums. For example, at first glance Delvaray’s 2007 poster design for the Contemporary Iranian Graphic Design 9th Biennale titled Goftegoo (Dialogue) resembles a primary sketch for a carpet design with a symmetrical composition and highly decorative and ornamental nature. Flowers and paisleys dominate the visual space yet when looking closer an array of icons, symbols and mechanical objects such as emoticons, punctuations, letters, numbers and cellphones come to surface. The monochromatic treatment of motifs and visual elements gives them the same importance yet touches of yellow are subtle points of emphasis in the entire poster.

Delvaray explains the idea behind this design4: “Chatting or sending SMS [Short Message Service] are tools of communication which have the most usage in today’s world. [An] increasing number of digital services has contributed to this mode of communication which has entered our culture and created a new culture with limited and incorrect syntax and has forced us to unintentionally use abbreviated and meaningless words and has created Penglish [Persian English]. Yellow is the sign for danger. There is a danger in choosing to have dialogues of this kind. Using Iranian motifs and combining them with the elements of the virtual world is an attempt to show how Iranian culture is changing and confronted with the increasing spread of tools of communication and the way it is adopting them.”

In the field of graphic design and visual communication, aesthetic and artistic practices can invent and introduce imaginative spaces for revealing and challenging cultural and political obstacles and limitations. Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller5 state: “Design can critically engage the mechanics of representation, exposing and revising its ideological biases; design can also remake the grammar of communication by discovering structures and patterns within the material media of the visual and verbal writing.” John Bowers6 argues that the engagement of designers and their active role in the production of culture has significant social and political meaning. “Designers are more than makers, observers, or controllers of information and ideas. At their best, designers are participants in the creation, critique and dissemination of culture.”

What distinguishes Delvaray’s work is her sensitivity and meticulous way of putting together complex ideas and elements with diverse visual histories and components, and assigning new meanings to their new identities. She looks at the “old” and “traditional” visual elements as “raw materials”  to work with and rejuvenates them by using them in contemporary contexts. “I am not interested in pleasing the viewer but I am aiming to excite them with my new works and ideas,” Delvaray says. “I would like to work on the viewers’ taste and perception.” She believes that designers can change the “collective taste” of a society and culture by respecting their viewers’ intelligence and educating them via thought-provoking and powerful designs.

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2010

1 The women designers of the Rokhsat exhibition were: Shahrzad Changalvaee (b.1983), Asieh Dehghani (b.1982), Homa Delvaray (b.1980), Maryam Enayati (b.1978), Zeynab Izadyar (b.1984), Zeinab Shahidi (b.1983), Reyhaneh Sheikhbahaey (b.1980) and Soha Shirvani (b.1980).

2 Dabireh is also the title of a journal of “critical writings and professional commentary” on typography. The founder and chief editor of Dabireh is Reza Abedni. Abedini is a prominent Iranian graphic designer who has introduced the Iranian contemporary design and typography on an international level. The majority of Dabireh’s editorial board members—such as Farhad Fouzouni, Homa Delvaray and Shahrzad Changalvaee—are former students of Abedini and among the most successful and innovative young designers in contemporary Iran.

3 Homa Delvaray exhibition at VitrinRooz.com, February 24 to March 9, 2010.

4 E-mail correspondence with author, August 2010.

5 Lupton, E., and Miller, A., Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design. London: Phaidon Press, 1996. (p. 23)

6 Bowers, J.,Introduction to Two-dimensional Design: Understanding Form and Function. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, 1999. (p. 13)

Image: Homa Delvaray, Goftegoo (Dialogue), 2007 poster design for the Contemporary Iranian Graphic Design 9th Biennale.

*This article was originally published in AIGA’s VOICE on December 8, 2010.
http://www.aiga.org/homa-delvaray-a-contemporary-iranian-graphic-designer-and-her-mission/

*To see Homa Delvaray’s works visit http://www.homadelvaray.com/