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A lady who never sat idle: Mokarrameh Ghanbari 1928-2005


By Syma Sayyah, Tehran


Recently many of us have read that Meryl Streep is going to portray an Iranian lady painter, that most of us had not even heard of, in a forthcoming film (see article).  So who is this lady that Hollywood has found so interesting?  Mokarrameh Ghanbari, who was born in 1928 in Mazadaran, a region in the north of Iran, reminds us more of our mothers or grandmothers than a painter.


This unusual lady, who was sold into marriage at a very young age[1] raised nine children and lived with two havoos (a husband’s other wife).  She was a farmer and a farmer’s wife most of her life and at the same time was a seamstress for ten years, hairdresser for fifteen and a midwife and a healer for many years, before becoming a painter at age of 67, after her husband died a few years before.  This strong lady never went to school nor had any formal training.  She first started painting when, after a long illness, her children, out of concern for her health, sold the cows that she was raising.  Out of grief, she started to paint, first on small scraps of paper that she found in the house using natural-made colors from fruits and trees.  Her very first painting was a portrait of a cow.  Some while later, her youngest bought her some paper and paint from Tehran and she went on to become a real painter.  She started to paint her house, her door, despite the strange looks and comments from her neighbors.



In an interview she said that she paints like a child.  Her paintings are full of stories, most with bright beautiful colors, but there is always some dark shade somewhere in her works, to bring out that bitter sweet side of life.  Her paintings are her creation of her recollections of the stories that her husbands used to recite to her as well as local folk legends, religious tales, her children’s faces, her life and her dreams.  She also got ideas from stories in the Koran and the Bible and what was going on in her village. 


At first she started to paint at night and would hide her paintings if someone dropped by unexpectedly, because in her village a farmer should not have anything to do with paper, as it was considered a waste[2],


Mr Bablouli

She has had several exhibitions in Tehran and abroad.  The first one was in1995 at the Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran; and the latest one, that I went to, was this week at the Day Gallery in Tehran (No. 1060 ValiAsr Ave., Opposite Park Saie, Tel. 88700849 -  I found the works on display so full of life and colorful even when it showed demon of a story.  I met her son Mr Bablouli, at Day Gallery, who told me that with some friends and prominent members of art and culture they are preparing a foundation in her name to preserve and show her works and her small hut up north where she lived and died.  I have a few pictures for you from this visit.  You may check her web site for more pictures and details about her work and her life at

The exhibition closes on the 29th April.

[2] ibid


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