When a 20-year old Iranian art student moved to New York in 1944 from her hometown, the ancient city of Qazvin, she soon found herself mixing with the brightest players of the city’s art scene including Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol. John Cage crowned her “that beautiful Persian girl”. But the work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian had a different source, not in Warhol’s Factory or Matthattan’s Studio 54 nightclub but beneath the crystalline high-domed hall of the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, southern Iran. There she had experienced in 1966 a transformative encounter she compared to “walking into a diamond at the centre of the sun”.
The works of Saudi artist Abdulnasser Gharem are always thought-provoking, raising many questions—some clear, others not so much. In his first solo exhibition in London, Gharem presents some of his early works alongside his latest creations. A clear theme resonates from the very beginning. It is in an endless debate of contemporary questions, starting from a single point and continuing, moving from one work to the other with grace and beautiful imagery, drawing you in from the first glance. From his most famous pieces is the series Concrete, in which blocks of different shapes and colors are stamped with words and phrases. The message of each piece in the series is the same: they are borders and boundaries, roadblocks to human dreams and desires, molded by mentalities that do not give space for free minds to make independent choices. This important theme runs throughout Gharem’s work, which makes heavy use of text and calligraphy—but each piece carries its own message and meaning far deeper than the letters written on them.
Well-known Iranian artist Ahmad Ameen Nazar’s paintings are usually inspired by heroes and demons from Persian mythology or the dramatic stories of kings and warriors of the Qajar dynasty. But his latest body of work, titled “Salto”, is quite different. It is a series of large drawings on paper depicting wrestlers grappling with each other. The artist has used ink and diluted acrylic paints to impart a sepia tone to the drawings, which have the look and feel of renaissance-style figurative studies.
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