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


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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