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


Sadegh Barirani: Designer of the “moment”

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | June 1, 2013

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 .
شمس تبریزی

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.[1]
Shams Tabrizi

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[2] 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[3]. 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[4] 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[5] (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[6] and Shekateh-ye Nasataliq[7] that 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.

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2013

Image: Poster by Sadegh Barirani, Graphic Art-The Movement toward Modernism, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, October 22, 1977.

To see more of Sadegh Barirani’s art go to: http://www.qoqnoos.com/body/graphic/sadegh%20barirani/master.htm

[1] Translated by Roshanak Keyghobadi.

[2] Rumi was a 13th century Iranian poet and Sufi mystic. Shams Tabrizi was a devotee and close friend of Rumi.

[3] Sohrab Sepehri (poet and painter, b. 1928-1980) and Manouchehr Sheibani (poet and painter, b.1924-1991) were among Barirani’s classmates at Tehran University.

[4] In 1950 Barirani joined the Khorous Janghi (Fighting Rooster) an Iranian Avant-garde art group that was trying to break away from the conservative traditional art.

[5] Delbanco, Dawn. “Chinese Calligraphy”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chcl/hd_chcl.htm (originally published April 2008, last revised November 2008)

[6] Nastaliq script is the principal style in Persian calligraphy.

[7] Shekateh-ye Nasataliq script is broken version of Nastaliq.

 

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/