Golnaz Fathi is a contemporary Iranian artist recognised for her reinterpretations of traditional Persian calligraphy. While most known for her pen- or acrylic-on-canvas works characterised by intricate lines and gestural brush strokes, she also engages with other media, including LED light and video installations.
Born in 1972 in Tehran, Fathi came of age in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution (1978-1979) and Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). From such tumult she has developed a practice consisting of contemplative work that often offers a sense of stillness and harmony. In the 1990s, while studying graphic design at Tehran's Azad University, she developed a fascination with traditional Persian calligraphy, and went on to receive a diploma from the Iranian Society of Calligraphy. She is one of the few female Iranian artists to have been formally trained in calligraphy. The field remains heavily dominated by men.
Seeking to expand the discipline's traditional boundaries, Fathi utilises a technique based on siah-mashq—an exercise where a calligrapher writes repeatedly until the paper is covered with black ink. The artist similarly envelops her canvases in black pools that, upon closer inspection, are revealed to be thin, interwoven lines. When she paints, her brush strokes evoke the gestural marks found in American Abstract Expressionism or Persian script. They are, in fact, illegible. This allows the audience to devise their own meanings and she seldom titles her work in order to maintain this openness.
While her paintings are open to interpretation, Fathi also responds to contemporary concerns. The works included in her solo exhibition Falling Leaves at The Third Line, Dubai, in 2013, for example, are based on Shahnameh, an epic Persian poem written by Ferdowsi between circa 977 and 1010. By combining figurative lithographic illustrations with calligraphic strokes, she draws parallels between the futility of wars in Shahnameh and present-day conflicts in Iran and the Middle East at large.
Fathi also experiments with three-dimensional and digital media. An untitled Plexiglas box from 2013 is lit by LED lights, revealing grids of soft undulating ines against a black background. In 2014, the artist exhibited her videos, Let's Blow Them Away and Dance Me to the End of Night, in which her trademark gestural lines come to life. She explored unconventional supports in 2018, painting on aluminium composite panels with their corners and other sections laser-cut away. Such untitled works were included in her solo presentation Let's Pretend Everything is Alright at Sundaram Tagore New York, in 2019.
Selected solo exhibitions include A Long Line Without a Word, Pearl Lam Galleries, Shanghai (2018); Contemplations, Sundaram Tagore Singapore (2016); and Dance Me to the End of Night, October Gallery, London (2014). Group shows include Frontiers Reimagined, a collateral event of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015); and The Decorated Word: Writing and Picturing in Islamic Calligraphy, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2019). Her works are in the collections of the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore; the British Museum, London; Brighton & Hove Museum; Carnegie Mellon University, Doha; The Farjam Foundation, Dubai; the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art; among others.
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