Two Bowls

Roshanak Keyghobadi | March 2015 | New York

Currently a 10th century ceramic serving bowl from Iran resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This bowl was probably made in Samarqand but excavated in the city of Nishapur (in northwestern Iran).[i] The bowl has calligraphic decorations in Eastern Kufic script[ii] that wishes its owners/users “blessing, prosperity, goodwill, peace, and happiness.”[iii]

Two years ago in Fargo, North Dakota (in north central USA) a ceramic serving bowl was made by the potter Michael Strand[iv] as a component of a project titled Bowls Around Town. This bowl was placed in a carefully crafted wooden box along with a video camera and a recipe journal and circulated among various individuals. In course of several years people would borrow the bowl and it would hold meals that each person has made, the camera will be used to record the process and the recipes, related memories and stories will be written in the journal. Bowls Around Town was part of Engage+Use project that “featured contemporary project-based work that investigated the processes of making, using, and living with bowls.”[v]

Although from different cultures and eras these two bowls have a number of qualities in common. Both bowls are made out of clay and their forms serve their purpose of holding food. They have also been tools for communication with their users – the writings on the bowl from Iran transmit positive messages of wellbeing and happiness and the bowl from Fargo becomes a tool for evoking and transmitting stories. Connection with both bowls from the beginning of their making to every time they have been or are used involves a collective effort. According to art historian Sheila Blair[vi] a team of skilled artisans was involved in making and decorating bowls such as the bowl from Iran. They were the owners/managers, throwing potters, people who did the clay preparation, throwing and turning, painted decoration, glazing, and firing as well as calligraphers, painters for the interior and assistants for the exterior painting. Although the bowl from Fargo has one maker yet it involves a team of facilitators and users such as various communities and groups, families, fire stations, public library patrons or anyone who has hosted the bowl. [vii]

But is there any relationship between the form and function of these two bowls and do they have any aesthetic value? The debate about form and function in art frequently points to the architect, Louis Sullivan[viii] and his famous statement about form following function. Sullivan believed that the purpose of a building establishes the form that it should take. As the continuation of Sullivan’s philosophy Frank Lloyd Wright[ix] proposed the idea of “organic architecture” which believed in the close relationship between human and nature by designing integrated and unified sites and spaces. Walter Gropius[x], who founded the German art school Bauhaus in 1919 and was one of the pioneers of modern architecture, believed in “total architecture” and “total work of art” in which various forms of art are combined to create a singular experience. Iranian philosopher Seyyed Hossien Nasr[xi] believes that Islamic architecture and art have transcendent forms and qualities. Nasr (1973) has stated that: “…men live in forms and, in order to be drawn toward the transcendent, they must be by forms that echo transcendent archetypes.”[xii]. Also Nader Ardalan[xiii] and Laleh Bakhtiar[xiv] (1973) have explained that the function of traditional Iranian art is achieving aesthetic and spiritual Unity. They believe that: “the traditional artist creates the external art form in light of the spirit; in this way the art form is able to lead man to the higher states of being and ultimately to Unity.” [xv]

The shape, color, organic lines, decorations and calligraphy on one bowl and the proportions, form, texture and glaze on the other not only make each bowl sophisticated and beautiful but also offer unique visual experiences to its makers, users and viewers. As philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey[xvi], points out “a work of art is created every time it is esthetically experienced.” [xvii] Dewey believed in the transformative nature of the aesthetic experience and stated that: “art throws off the covers that hide the expressiveness of experienced things; it quickens us from the slackness of routine and enables us to forget ourselves by finding ourselves in the delight of experiencing the world about us in its varied qualities and forms. It interprets every shade of expressiveness found in objects and orders them in a new experience of life. Because the objects of art are expressive, they communicate.”[xviii]

The makers of the bowl from Iran have created an expressive vessel that communicates through words, which transform its users eating experience. When the food is gradually consumed and the words are revealed an ordinary bowl becomes an object of beauty and contemplation therefore according to the Islamic thought revealing meaning (mana) through form (surat).

The maker of the Fargo bowl Michael Strand explains that his art practice and mission is to create objects (cups and bowls) which are meant to function as tools for visual, verbal and human interactions. He states: “I make objects that extend beyond the walls of the museum or the confines of a gallery. Without this restriction I work to build bridges between people through shared experiences with functional objects and ideas. Relationship is my content. Working in collaboration is my process. Human connection through art, craft and design is my mission.”

Ultimately although the bowl from Iran and the bowl from Fargo function as practical vessels they are also “objects of art” and vice versa. And most importantly these bowls function as “objects of inquiry” that are expressive and open to new and contemporary aesthetic experiences. The two bowls “build bridges” between makers and users, past and present, meaning and form, form and function.

 

Images:

Bowl. Late 10th–11th century, Iran, Nishapur; present-day Uzbekistan, probably Samarqand. Earthenware. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S.A. 35.6 cm x 10.8 cm.

Bowl. 2013, U.S.A., Fargo, North Dakota. Ceramic. Made by Michael Strand as part of Bowls Around Town project. 36 cm x 14 cm.

 

Notes:

[i] Nishapur and Samarqand were under Samanid rule in the 10th century Iran.

[ii] “Eastern Kufic” script is now referred to as “new style script.” It is a script most often associated with the Eastern Islamic World.” Maryam Ekhtiar. (2015)

[iii] “Bowl with Arabic inscription [Found at Iran, Nishapur, Tepe Madrasa]” (40.170.15) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/40.170.15. (July 2011)

[iv] Michael Strand (b. 1970 ).

[v] Engage+Use project and Bowls Around Town were part of a larger exhibition titled Object Focus: The Bowl that was curated by Namita Gupta Wiggers at the Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland. Object Focus: The Bowl: March 07, 2013 – September 21, 2013. Engage+Use: May 16 – September 21, 2013. http://mocc.pnca.edu/exhibitions/5412/

[vi] Sheila Blair (b. 1948).

[vii] Blair, S. (2013) Text and Image in Medieval Persian Art. Chapter 2: The Art of Writing:A Bowl from Samarqand. P. 13.

[viii] Louis Sullivan (1864-1924).

[ix] Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

[x] Walter Gropius (1883-1969).

[xi] Seyyed Hossien Nasr (b. 1933).

[xii] Nasr, S.H. (1973) Islamic Art and Spirituality. p. xi

[xiii] Nader Ardalan (b. 1940).

[xiv] Laleh Bakhtiar (b.1938).

[xv] Ardalan, N. and Bakhtiar, L . (1973) Sense of Unity; The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture. p. 7

[xvi] John Dewey (1859- 1952).

[xvii] Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. p.113.

[xviii] Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. p.108.

© 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 #34 | Autumn 2015

دو کاسه

روشنک کیقبادی | فروردین ۱۳۹۴ | نیویورک

در حال حا ضر یک کاسه متعلق به قرن دهم میلادی از ایران درموزه ی هنر متروپولیتن نیویورک مسکن دارد که به احتمال زیاد در سمرقند ساخته شده ولی در نیشابور (در شمال غرب ایران)۱ پیدا شده است. این کاسه که با خوشنویسی تزیین شده نوشته ای به خط کوفی شرقی۲ برویش دارد که آرزوی “برکت, کامیابی, حسن نیت, صلح و خوشبختی”۳ برای صاحب و استفاده کننده خود می کند

دو سال پیش در شهر فارگو درداکوتای شمالی (در شما ل مرکزی ایالات متحده امریکا) یک کاسه به دست سفالگری به نام مایکل سترند۴ ساخته شد که جزو پروژه ای به نام “کاسه های پیرامون شهر” بود. این کاسه در یک جعبه ی چوبی که مخصوص ان درست شده بود همراه یک دوربین ویدئو و یک دفتر برای نوشتن دستورغذا قرار داده شد و بین افراد دست به دست به گردش درآمد. درطول چند سال آینده مردم این کاسه را قرض خواهند گرفت و کاسه هرغذایی که هر فردی درست کند درخود جای خواهد داد ,از دوربین ویدئو برای ثبت روند کار و دستور غذاها استفاده می شود و خاطرات و داستانهای مرتبط به هرغذا دردفتر یادداشت خواهند شد. “کاسه های پیرامون شهر“ قسمتی از طرح “سهیم شدن+استفاده” بود که ” کارهای معاصر و پروژه ها یی را به نمایش می گذا شت که روند ساختن ,استفاده و زندگی با کاسه ها را بررسی می کرد .”۵

با اینکه این دو کاسه مربوط به دو فرهنگ و عصر متفاوت هستند ولی از چند جنبه به یکدیگر شباهت دارند. هر دو کاسه سفالی هستند و کارشان را که نگه داشتن غذاست انجام می دهند. این دو ابزاری برای ارتباط با استفاده کننده های خودشان هم هستند — نوشته های روی کاسه ای که از ایران است پیامهای مثبتی چون سلامتی و خوشبختی را انتقال می دهد و کاسه ای که از فارگو است وسیله ای برای فراخواندن وانتقال داستان هاست .

ارتباط باهردو کاسه از ابتدا ساخته شدنشان وهربارکه استفاده شده اند یا می شوند یک کوشش گروهی است. همانطور که متخصص تاریخ هنر شیلا بلر۶ می گوید یک گروه هنرمند ماهرکاسه هایی مثل این کاسه که از ایران است را می ساختند. این جمع شامل صاحبان/مدیران ,افرادی که خاک رس و گل را آماده میکردند ,سفالگران ,لعآب کاران و همینطور خوشنویسان و نقاشان تزیینات داخل و خارج کاسه بودند. با اینکه کاسه ای که از فارگو است را یک نفر ساخته بااینحال یک گروه به او کمک کرده اند که شامل انجمن ها ,دسته ها ,خانواده ها ,مراکز آتش نشانی ,کتابخانه های عمومی وهر کسی که میزبان کاسه بوده می باشند. ۷

ولی آیا هیچ ارتباطی بین شکل و کاربرد این دو کاسه وجود دارد و آیا این دو دارای هیچ ارزش زیبایی شناختی هستند؟ مباحثه درمورد شکل و کاربرد در هنر غالبا اشاره به لویز سولیوان۸ آرشیتکت دارد و گفته معروف او درمورد پیروی شکل از کاربرد. سولیوان عقیده داشت که هدف یک ساختمان شکل ان را تعیین می کند . فرنک لوید رایت۹ درادامه طرز فکر سولیوان اندیشه ی “معماری ارگانیک” را مطرح کرد که عقیده به ایجاد رابطه نزدیک بین انسان و طبیعت از طریق طراحی فضاها و مکان های یکپارچه داشت. والتر گروپیوس۱۰ که مدرسه هنر آلمانی باوهاوس را در ۱۹۱۹ تاسیس کرد و یکی از پیشگامان معماری مدرن بود عقیده به “معماری کلی وتام” و “هنر تام” داشت که در ان اشکال مختلف هنر با یکدیگر ادغام میشوند تا یک تجربه واحد پدید بیاورند.

فیلسوف ایرانی سید حسین نصر۱۱ بر این عقیده است که معماری و هنر اسلامی اشکال و کیفیت های افضل دارند . نصر میگوید :”انسان ها در شکل زندگی می کنند, برای این که به سمت افضل کشیده شو ند باید با اشکالی که الگو ی افضل را منعکس می کنند احاطه شوند”.۱۲ همینطور نادر اردلان۱۳ و لاله بختیار۱۴ توضیح می دهند که کاربرد هنر سنتی ایران رسیدن به وحدت زیبایی شناختی و معنوی است. آنها عقیده دارند که : “هنرمند سنتی شکل هنر بیرونی را در پرتو روح و معنی خلق می کند؛ از این طریق شکل هنری توانایی این را دارد که انسان را به مراتب بالاتر وجود و در نهایت به وحدت برساند .”۱۵

شکل , رنگ ,خط های ارگانیک , تزئینات و خوشنویسی بروی یک کاسه و تناسبات ,شکل ,بافت و لعاب در کاسه دیگر نه تنها هر یک از این دو را زیبا و پیچیده کرده اند بلکه تجربه های زیبا شناختی منحصر به فردی را برای سازنده ,استفاده کننده و بیننده فراهم می کنند . همانطور که جان دیویی۱۶ فیلسوف و اصلاح طلب اموزشی اشاره می کند: ” یک اثر هنری هر بار که از طریق زیبایی شناختی تجربه می شود دوباره خلق می شود.”۱۷ دیویی عقیده به طبیعت دگرگون کننده تجربه زیباشناختی دارد و می گوید: ” هنر پرده ای را که بیان گری چیزهای تجربه شده را پنهان کرده کنار میزند. به ما در مقابل رخوت روزمره گی نیرو می دهد و ما را قادر می سازد که خود را فراموش کنیم و خودمان را در شوق تجربه کردن دنیای پیرامون خود با کیفیت ها و شکل های متفاوتش پیدا کنیم . هنر انواع تجلیات یک شیء را تفسیر میکند و به یک تجربه جدید در زندگی تبدیل میک ند .از ان جائی که اشیاء هنری بیانگر هستند ,ارتباط برقرارمی کنند.” ۱۸

سازنده گان کاسه ای که از ایران است ظرفی گویا خلق کرده اند که با کلمات ارتباط برقرار می کند و تجربه غذا خوردن را برای استفاده کننده اش دگرگون می کند. وقتی که در این کاسه غذا خورده می شود و به تدریج کلمات آشکار می شوند یک کا سه معمولی تبدیل به چیزی زیبا و قابل تعمق می شود یعنی طبق نظریه اسلامی معنا را از طریق صورت آشکار می کند .

سازنده کاسه فآرگو مایکل سترند توضیح می دهد که کار هنری و ماموریت او به وجود آوردن اشیا یی (فنجان و کاسه) است که کاربرد ابزاری برای ارتباط دیداری ,گفتاری و انسانی دارند . او میگوید: “من اشیا یی می سازم که ورای دیوارهای موزه یا محدوده گالری می روند .بدون این محدودیت من سعی می کنم که بین مردم پل هایی از تجربه های مشترک با اشیا کاربردی و اندیشه درست کنم . ارتباط محتوای من است . کار از طریق همکاری روند کار من است. رابطه انسانی از طریق هنر, صنعت و طراحی ماموریت من است .”

در نهایت اگر چه کاسه از ایران و کاسه از فارگو کاربرد عملی دارند آنها اشیایی هنری هستند و برعکس. و مهمتر این که کاربرد این دو کاسه این است که “اشیا پرس و جو” هستند , بیان گرند و آماده تجربه های زیبا شناختی جدید و معاصر. این دو کاسه پلی ساخته اند بین سازنده و استفاده کننده, گذشته و حال, معنی و شکل ,شکل و کاربرد.

:پا نوشت ها

۱. در قرن دهم میلادی نیشابور و سمرقند جزو حکومت سامانی بودند

۲. “خط کوفی شرقی در حال حاضر به نام خط سبک نو شناخته میشود که خطی است متعلق به شرق جهان اسلام.” مریم اختیار-۲۰۱۵

۳.”Bowl with Arabic inscription [Found at Iran, Nishapur, Tepe Madrasa]” (40.170.15) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/40.170.15. (July 2011)

۴. Michael Strand (b. 1970)

۵. طرح “سهیم شدن+استفاده” و کاسه های پیرامون شهر اجزا یک نمایشگاه بزرگتر به نام تمرکزروی شی بودند که نمیتا گوپتا ویگر در موزه هنر معاصر پورتلند هماهنگ کرده بود
Object Focus: The Bowl: March 07, 2013 – September 21, 2013. Engage+Use: May 16 – September 21, 2013.
http://mocc.pnca.edu/exhibitions/5412

۶.Sheila Blair (b. 1948)

۷. Blair, S. (2013) Text and Image in Medieval Persian Art. Chapter 2: The Art of Writing:A Bowl from Samarqand. P. 13

۸. Louis Sullivan (1864-1924)

۹. Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

۱۰. Walter Gropius (1883-1969)

۱۱. Seyyed Hossien Nasr (b. 1933)

۱۲. Nasr, S.H. (1973) Islamic Art and Spirituality. p. xi

۱۳. Nader Ardalan (b. 1940)

۱۴. Laleh Bakhtiar (b.1938)

۱۵. Ardalan, N. and Bakhtiar, L . (1973) Sense of Unity; The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture. p. 7

۱۶. John Dewey (1859- 1952)

۱۷. Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. p.113

۱۸. Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. p.108

تصویر ها :

کاسه. اواخر قرن ١٠ تا ۱۱,ایران , نیشابور؛ ازبکستان امروزی ,احتمالا سمرقند. سفال. موزه هنر متروپولیتن
, نیو یورک, ایالات متحده امریکا. ۳۵.۶ سانتیمتر در ۱۰.۸ سانتیمتر.

کاسه. ٢٠١٣.ایالات متحده امریکا. فارگو, داکوتای شمالی. سرامیک. ساخته مایکل سترند جزو پروژه کاسه های پیرامون شهر. ۳۶ سانتیمتر در ۱۴ سانتیمتر.

. این متن در مجله نشان ( شماره ۳۴) ویژه‌ی کارکرد و طراحی به چاپ رسیده است
.چاپ وتکثیر این متن به هرشکلی بدون اجازه روشنک کیقبادی ممنوع است  © 

Clotheslines of Isolation

Roshanak Keyghobadi | October 2014

 

و این منم
زنی تنها
در آستانه فصلی سرد
…در ابتدای درک هستی آلوده ی زمین
فروغ فرخزاد

And here I am
a lonely woman
at the beginning  of a cold season
coming to comprehend the earth’s contaminated existence … [i]
Forough Farrokhzad

A woman is photographed inside an enclosed space of a courtyard at night and the other is painted on a rooftop in the daytime. One is standing in front of a clothesline that is covered with necessary items such as a bedsheet, a pillow case, pajamas, socks and underwear which appears that were urgently washed and hung to dry. The other is standing next to a clothesline that is covered with not necessarily essential items such as a shirt, a skirt, a pair of pants and a sundress, which seems that have been leisurely washed and hung to dry with seven matching clothespins.

Both women’s heads and bodies are covered with chador, one with a formal black chador, which is usually worn outside the house and in public spaces, and the other with an informal patterned chador that is typically used inside the house and in private spaces. The woman with black chador is looking straight at the viewer and wearing her covering in a relaxed way. The woman in patterned chador with her back to the viewer seems to be looking at the view in front of her. She is also wearing her chador casually and is barefoot.

In his essay Painting and Time (1985)[ii] John Berger explains that paintings are “prophecies received from the past” whereas photographs are “records of the past.” He also believes that a painting “stops time” and a photograph “preserves a moment.”

Tahmineh Monzavi[iii] has been recording and preserving moments as a documentary photographer and this particular image is part of her Women Addicts (2010) series that she shot at women’s shelters in Darvazeh Ghar and Maydoun-e Shoush neighborhoods in Tehran. Monzavi explains: “I took these pictures at shelters for homeless women who could stay for the night and avoid sleeping in the parks and streets. I tried to take photos of the regular moments of their lives not the times of violence and injections. Their faces were attractive and had so much to say. Their gaze could get you deep inside their lives and they would transfer joy and sorrow to you…I worked on this project for three years. Every two weeks or once or twice a month I would go and visit and take pictures. During this time people would come and go and change…The Women Addicts series was the most interesting project for me despite all of its difficulties. I was interested in taking photos of the women and being with them in their environment, to see their interactions, their different types of problems, their hygiene and their treatment, the type of care they received, their condition and struggles, and how others thought about them and the ways they coped with their situation.” (Monzavi, 2011)[iv]

Monzavi met the woman in this photograph at one of the women’s shelters. She recalls: “Her name was Javaher (Jewel) and she used to be an addict. She was in love with an offender and when I took this photo she was 27 years old and pregnant. Javaher was very beautiful and neat. She always wore makeup and made her eyes so black that it seemed black juice will drip from her eyes. She was kind and sensitive and helped and cooked for other women who lived with her…I wanted to take a photo of Javaher in front of the clothesline in the courtyard at night. She had just washed the clothes, which belonged to her and her friends. She was very scrupulous and reminded me of my grandmother who also washed clothes in her courtyard’s basin with a hose and spread them on the clothesline.” (Monzavi, 2014) [v]

In her paintings Zeynab Movahed[vi] captures the mundane and still moments of lives of the women with their faces not revealed to the viewer. She states: “The female element in my paintings is definitely related to me as a woman and the multiple, contradictory and yet sensitive positions that a woman has in our society. Not showing the women’s faces in my works is a gentle protest against the over emphasis on her body and where a woman’s domestic labor and duties as well as her sexual activities are more important than her intellect. A woman’s beauty and sexual attractiveness limits her and also marriage confines her. The women in my paintings are educated and aware of the discriminations against them and are silently in defiance… “ (Movahed, 2014)[vii]

This image is part of Movahed’s series of paintings titled Clothes Rope (2011). She explains: “For me the rooftop is a small and isolated space away from others and an extension of a woman’s loneliness and seclusion. This seclusion for me and others like me was once imposed but now is voluntary as the result of the unpleasant contemporary social and cultural climate… The clothesline confines the woman and is wrapped around all the layers of her life and she can not get rid of it…” (Movahed, 2014)[viii]

The two artists have been engaged in critical visual investigations that invite the viewers to look deeper and see beyond the surface of things. Monzavi’s photograph and Movahed’s painting not only depict personal/public and mental/physical spaces of these women but also relate their marginalized condition to their class. According to statistics, six million Iranians have addiction to drugs and at least 700,000 of addicts in Iran are women.[ix] On the other hand the number of female to male students entering universities in Iran is two to one, yet upon graduation one-third or less are likely to work as men do, and this number drops after women get married and have children.[x] 79% of all Iranian women are literate but only 21% of them are [officially] employed.[xi] Monzavi’s Javaher as a homeless addict and Movahed’s solitary woman at home belong to the exploited and subordinated class in Iranian society which their intellect, labor, voice and personhood has no value. They are neither considered good daughters, wives and mothers nor “useful” and “productive” citizens. These women are socially distanced and frequently ignored.

Tahmineh Monzavi has documented personal moments of women that the society prefers to forget and Zeynab Movahed has narrated private moments of women that prefer to forget the society.

[i] Forough Farrokhzad poem. Translation from Persian to English by Roshanak Keyghobadi.
[ii] John Berger (1985). The Sense of Sight. Vintage International.
[iii] http://tahminehmonzavi.com
[iv] http://vimeo.com/83477362 (Translated by Roshanak Keyghobadi from the Interview in Persian with Tahmineh Monzavi, SHEED Award 2011 Winner which was produced by : MAAD STUDIO)
[v] From Roshanak Keyghobadi’s e-mail correspondence with Tahmineh Monzavi, 2014.
[vi] http://www.zeynabmovahed.com
[vii] From Roshanak Keyghobadi’s e-mail correspondence with Zeynab Movahed, 2014.
[viii] From Roshanak Keyghobadi’s e-mail correspondence with Zeynab Movahed, 2014.
[ix] http://www.theguardian.com
[x] http://www.brookings.edu
[xi] http://iranlaborreport.com

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2014. This essay cannot be reproduced, quoted, translated or published in part or as a whole in any format without Roshanak Keyghobadi’s permission.

Recovering the Past: “Letters” of Shadi Yousefian

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | November 22, 2013

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverably for ourselves and for others.”
– Goethe

In her recent exhibition at Shirin Gallery NY[i], Shadi Yousefian has created a visual narrative of recovering her personal letters and restoring what was destined to be lost.

Yousefian moved to the United States in 1995 when she was sixteen and until 1997 kept up a constant correspondence through handwritten letters with her family members and close friends. Ten years later she re-examined thick packages of letters that she had affectionately stored and realized that many of the events and details of the letters were not familiar to her anymore. She recalls: “The content of my correspondence were so deeply layered within hundreds of overlapping pages that their temporality remains an unordered flow- I could not remember what happened when, even as my own sense of identity and belonging has, in part, taken form through in the affective exchange.”

Yousefian’s act of recovery started when she reformatted the contents and form of the letters and gave a new life to them. By redacting, cutting, staining, gluing, nailing, and punching holes, she developed a ritualistic process which assigned a new meaning to her accumulated personal documents. To understand this process one must not only view all works on display in relationship to each other and experience the whole gestalt but also search for connections and meanings of each work within itself.

In her first attempts Yousefian cautiously deconstructed the letters by punching, cutting and nailing photocopies and later with more confidence she used the actual letters, still hesitant to interrupt their content, words and sentences. Gradually she detached herself from the content and concentrated on form.  Long strips of paper glued on top of each other become small squares or circles meticulously nailed and positioned in grids.

Yousefian chose to start working on the letters of family and friends first and later she moved on to her own letters[ii]. She explains the emotional and aesthetic divide between her own letters and the other letters:  “Where my friends’ letters were mostly impassioned and joyful, my own reflected the sadness and strain of my early years in the United States. I manifested this melancholic distance by presenting my own letters bare and unstained, where I animated those from friends by staining their pages with the wine and tea we once shared.

It seems that Yousefian has tried to give the emotional voices of the letters a unified and rational form in order to sort out her own feelings and thoughts about them. For example in Untitled (above images), nails hold down fragments of letters that are cut in shape of small squares.  Each squared specimen reveals a portion of a larger written content. In different handwritings, legible or illegible, rushed or controlled, pieces of various emotions are on display and the viewers can verbally and visually connect them together: “Hello…I am writing…I remember…congratulations…night…kiss…call me…joy…1377…try…I hope…life…photo…I laughed…I am sure…gradually…think…help…talk…”

Within this cohesive composition there is a tension between the materials and content. Colors of the papers, untouched or stained, are in natural tones of green, blue, sienna, ivory and white which are tranquil and quite yet they seem to move on the surface of the piece.  Although the organic handwritten lines of letters are interrupted by cutting and pining and then neatly positioned in a mechanical grid, each square preserves its character and holds one or few words, which transfer a message or trigger a feeling.

Rows and rows of nine hundred nails compose a visual sound. One can imagine the loud and repetitive action which can also be meditative and centering when Yousefian was hammering them down. This rhythm also flows in the colors, shapes and patterns that are reminiscent of traditional Iranian tile and brick works in Shiraz and Isfahan.

In her exhibition Shadi Yousefian shares her thoughts and creative process by walking us through her rituals of realization (finding and re-reading the letters), selection (choosing specific parts of the letters), detachment (cutting the letters), manipulation (making something new with the letters), and reflection (re-examining the letters in a new format). She explains: “… ‘Letters,’ effects an intimate, indexical relation between my past and present; and shapes the intangible mesh of lives entwined across a distance into an architecture of lived experiences.”

©Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2013

Above images. Shadi Yousefian, Untitled, 2011, 48 in x 48 in, Mixed Media. (Full image and detail)

Also see http://www.shadiyousefian.com


[i] Shirin Gallery NY http://www.shiringalleryny.com. Shadi Yousefian’s “Letters” will be on view from October 24 to November 28, 2013.

[ii] Yousefian asked her family and friends to send back her letters.

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/

Conversations with the environment: Fiber arts of Tara Goudarzi and Atefeh Khas

By: Roshanak Keyghobadi | August 2013

Tara Goudarzi and Atefeh Khas are not guerilla artists1or yarn bombers2 yet they make their artistic statements by temporarily transforming natural or architectural environments with their large scale knitted and crocheted flower and roof installations which initiate a fascinating dialogue between themselves, their artworks, their viewers and the environment.

A Flower for Nature3  and Another Roof4 are two ongoing collaborative woven projects by Tara and Atefeh.  Tara usually weaves flowers with a hollow circle in the middle that is surrounded by larger loops and Atefeh weaves geometrical flowers. Their materials are inexpensive or recycled yarns, sometime sheep and goat wool threads that have been spun by women of Lorestan region in Iran and the size of their flowers vary and can be up to five meters. Tara’s and Atefeh’s flowers and roofs have covered parts of natural environments such as seashores, forests, salt lakes, cliffs or on other occasions have acted as a roof in natural or architectural spaces. Their soft and flexible woven creations are in harmony with the coarse surface of rocks, rough barks of the trees and solid walls of buildings.

Atefeh views their artistic process as a transformative experience and explains: “we go through a transformation which unintentionally is transferred to our viewers. The questions that we have raised for ourselves become the questions of our viewers such as why weaving? Why femininity? Why nature? Why Low Art?”  Low Art is what they call their woven works that is in opposition to the “High Art” which is an elitist term based on cultural, gender and class biases. In fact Tara and Atefeh question the system of positioning the artworks produced by women on the lower scale of artistic value. Since in many cultures weaving is usually categorized as a form of handicraft that is specifically produced by women and lacking aesthetic value5 Tara and Atefeh deliberately have chosen knitting and crocheting to bring forth the marginality of these artistic practices and situate them among other important contemporary Iranian artworks. Atefeh explains: “when viewers find out that we call our works Low Art they ask should they truly be called Low Art? In fact we want to challenge our viewers.”

Tara and Atefeh both studied painting at the Shahed University in Tehran and also had the opportunity to study contemporary art under renowned Iranian environmental artist Ahmad Nadalian6 for three years. In addition to making environmental art they create photographs and performance art pieces. Atefeh describes the nature of their cooperation: “our collaboration is very pleasurable. We welcome each other’s suggestions and enjoy the whole process of creating each piece together. It is easy to decide about the locations and the details.” Tara adds: “we choose specific sites for our installation to create a feminine space in those environments and we offer a gift to nature in order to emphasize the location.”

Tara and Atefeh are among those environmental artists who honor the nature and their process of art making is a way of contemplating, recognizing and gifting. They get engaged with the natural environment by temporarily transforming the appearance of each space7 and by offering a flower or a roof start a conversation between themselves, the environment and their viewers. They not only facilitate a new way of looking at each space of their art installations but also influence the meaning and context of each location. For example when they spread a massive crocheted pink and purple flower over the Salt Lake in Orumieh, Iran (2009) the vast and silent site becomes intimate and vibrant. All eyes focus on the central circle of the installation and it is as if they had spread a vast carpet in nature’s living room inviting the viewers to join their exchange with nature. In another installation Tara and Atefeh created a crocheted roof suspended between the trees in Isfahan, Iran (2008). Each opening in the knitted roof deconstructs the vast blue sky above as well as the surrounding trees offering the viewer many framed images. It creates a shelter, a place to stop, a chance to look at every detail of branches, leafs, sky, white clouds and to discover myriad of forms, colors, compositions and textures.

The ritual of giving flowers to nature is the way that Tara and Atefeh pay their respect and reveal their love and appreciation for environment. Their flowers become mandalas which represent their spiritual and feminine connection to specific sites. Their roofs not only represent shelters and protective shields but also are tools for visual investigation and transformation of ordinary to extraordinary.

Tara and Atefeh have taken many trips together and they are often seen weaving bracelets which they offer to friends that they make along the way. Tara’s and Atefeh’s bracelets like their flowers are not only gifts but a visual symbol for beginning a connection and dialogue.

© Roshanak Keyghobadi, 2013.

Note:
  • All the artists’ quotations are from my online interview with Goudarzi and Khas in 2013.
Images:
  • (Top) Tara Goudarzi and Atefeh Khas, A Flower for Nature (2009), Salt Lake, Orumieh, Iran.  Photo by Shahrnaz Zarkesh.
  • (Bottom) Tara Goudarzi and Atefeh Khas, Another Roof (2008), Isfahan, Iran. Photo by Atefeh Khas.

Links:


1. Guerilla artists create and leave their artworks in public spaces with no authorization in
order to make political, social and cultural statements and display their views for the community.

2. Yarn bombers create knitted or crocheted yarn displays and installations in urban public spaces. Their works are not permanent and also called guerilla knitting or urban knitting with the purpose of changing the mundane city environments.

3. Goudarzi and Khas have installed  their projects titled A Flower for Nature in Iran, in different forms and locations such as in Masouleh (2011), in Hormuz Island (2011, 2010) and in Oroumieh’s Salt Lake (2009).

4. Goudarzi and Khas have installed their projects titled Another Roof in Iran, in different forms and locations such as in Masouleh (2011), Hormuz Island (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011), in Shushtar (2010), in Polour (2009), in Esfahan (2008) and in Nowshahr (2008).

5. In Iranian culture weaving is usually associated with women and Iranian weaving is synonymous with carpet weaving. The oldest known surviving carpet in the world is Pazyryk carpet that was made in Iran in 5th century BC.

6. Ahmad Nadalian (b. 1963) is an environmental artist, art critic, and university professor.  He studied painting at Tehran University, Iran and was awarded a Ph.D. degree from University of Central England in 1995. His works vary from carvings and installations to video art and performances. You can see his art on: http://www.riverart.net, http://www.nadalian.com and http://www.wwwebart.com.

7. Goudarzi and Khas never leave any materials behind and are respectful of each site.

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.