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Art Basel in Hong Kong: Exhibitions to See Ocula Report Art Basel in Hong Kong: Exhibitions to See 23 Mar 2019 : Tessa Moldan for Ocula

For those visiting during Art Basel in Hong Kong (29–31 March 2019), the smell of fresh paint may still be in the air at the latest heritage conservation project, The Mills, which opened on 16 March to encompass the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textiles (CHAT), joining the ranks with ex-prison complex Tai Kwun, along with Eaton HK—a retro...

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Firenze Lai Ocula Conversation Firenze Lai

Firenze Lai says that she knows her studio of a few hundred square feet intimately; from the textures of its surfaces to the way the breeze blows into the room. The spaces depicted in her paintings are equally intimate. When curators seem to be at a loss for words to discuss troubled times, fear of containment, and the feeling of being completely...

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Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber Ocula Report Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber 15 Mar 2019 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...

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Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Studio, Tehran

Lucy Byrnes Freunde von Freunden 20 August 2015
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Studio, Tehran. Image courtesy of Freunde von Freunden, Photography: James Whineray.

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Tehran is a bright, whirling, magnificent wilderness. The air blows hot and heavy from the desert and brings with it some form of scorched earth residue; dust from another place where people are scarce and the moon hangs low, like a luminous stamp above stretches of sand and rocky outcrop. Through built-up streets this desert wind blows, past gridlocked cars from a forgotten era, against bodies swathed in cloth and faces shielded by headscarves. The people of Tehran carry on, remaining resolute against the dry heat.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Studio, Tehran. Photography: James Whineray.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian lives on the other side of town. Tehran is more shining, shimmying colossus than common metropolis, and crossing the city’s dense sprawl takes resolve. After gender-divided subway systems are negotiated, heaving alleyways and human tidewaters, the foothills of the Alborz Mountains are reached. Monir’s house and studio live in close proximity to one another in the affluent neighborhood of Tajrish, which is located in the northern reaches of the city and flanked by a vast and snow-domed mountain range. Old trees line the avenues of Tajrish and create awnings of shade against the sun’s midday glare. The studio is unassuming – it lies within a walled enclosure off a side street and its white peeling paintwork looks tired, its gate a little rusty. A modest, light-patched courtyard gives way to the heavy doors of the studio itself and a blaze, far stronger than the Iranian sun, awaits inside. Monir’s studio dazzles, transfixes, eternally recreates the visitor. Mirrored works hang from every surface and compete against one another in their quest to replicate and redefine. Fractured light glimmers and glances from wall to floor to ceiling. The room appears to move in accordance with the brilliance of its bounty. In the centre stands Monir; her work surrounding her, engulfing her. She is 92 years old and small, and her smile is wide.

The mirror works that Monir creates first took shape in the 1960s and 70s when she returned to her native Iran after spending over twenty-six exiled years in New York after the Iranian Revolution. Her journey as an artist began long before the Shah’s overthrow; Monir’s artistic trajectory spans from her early days of study at the Fine Arts College of Tehran, to further studies and freelance graphic design work in New York as well as extensive traveling to Iran’s more remote regions. It was during this period that traditional Persian craftsmanship, Islamic pattern design and western principles merged in the form of Monir’s distinctive art practice. After her return to Iran in 2004 and the establishment of her studio and design workshop, Monir resumed work with many of the craftsmen with whom she had initially collaborated in the 1970s. “When I came back from America, I lived in many different cities in Iran, and traveled all around Iran to find my country. I was very young when I left… when I returned to Iran I wanted to see what my country was really like. What was this 3,000 year old culture? I went to many different cities as well as to the countryside to see what the history of our architecture and fine art was like. I traveled.” When asked what informs and inspires her, Monir replies: “Everything. Traveling, being born here in Iran, seeing mirror works in Shiraz, the mosques, the palaces – everything.”

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Photography: James Whineray.
The Persian age-old artistic temperament lies at the very heart of Iranian culture, despite tensions between pre- and post-Revolutionary Iran. Monir’s work draws from both these worlds; she delves headlong into Persian mysticism while simultaneously invoking the current social and political landscape of Islam. Her mirror works reflect this collision. Monir refers to her mirrored pieces as ‘geometric families’, the essence of which is easily recognizable in the geometry of Iran’s heritage. The mosques, shrines and palaces that extend throughout the nation are laced with mirror work and geometrically exacting decorative features. “My work is based on geometry, and geometry starts from the triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, octagon and all that. And you can design many different forms in many different materials from these geometric foundations and principles.”

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Studio, Tehran. Photography: James Whineray.
The mirror sculptures that are housed within Monir’s studio are a mixture of old and new work. Having recently returned from a trip to New York for the opening of her first comprehensive exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, Monir wastes no time in reinstating her studio practice. Her workshop, which adjoins the studio, emits a gentle hum as glass is scored and cut by local craftsmen, learned in the techniques of Islamic design principles. A plate of cold, freshly cut watermelon sits on a table. Newspaper clippings, technical drawings and impromptu sketches are tacked to the walls. Books in Farsi and English are stacked upon shelves, spilling across the floor. Black and white photographs flap as a gentle breeze tugs at their corners – the open window through which it blows is framed by spiralling creepers and intricate latticework. This is a living, breathing, working space; this is Monir’s studio.


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