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Exhibition by Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian: Hejleh -- As Public Art


By Yahya Dehghanpour, Rose Issa Projects, London

Hejleh is bridal chamber, a room prepared and decorated by the family of the bride and groom with colorful glass, mirror, and textile for the newly-wed to spend their first night [1] in. It has its own place in the Iranian lore and can be found in such classic works as Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings," c. 1000 AD) and Nezami Ganjavi's Khosrow o Shirin("Khosrow and Shirin," c. 1177 AD). It also appears in many miniature paintings of scenes of festivity and merriment.

(APPROX) 220X80X80CM, 2005

Such chambers are still used in the Iranian plateau for wedding ceremonies; however, beginning with the Safavid era (1501-1722) and especially after the reign of the Qajar king Nasir al-Din Shah (1848-1896), it became customary to commemorate the young martyrs of Karbala [2] by constructing small-scale, hexagonal or octagonal, structures that resembled hejleh -- supposedly lamenting the fact that the young martyr was never able to see his bridal chamber.

Today, hejlehs are erected when a young person passes away unexpectedly. These elaborate shrine-like constructs can be seen standing outside a house where mourning ceremonies for the death of a young man [3] is convened. Passers by will immediately realize that a tragedy, whether in an accident or in battlefield, has befallen and they are invited to commiserate with the family of the young person.

Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian's hejleh is an emotional response as well as a commemorative piece dedicated to those whom the artist feels indebted to. Among them are painters Hossein Qollar Aghasi and Mohammad Modabber, poets Sohrab Sepehri, Forough Farrokhzad, Nima Yushi, and Mehdi Akhavan Salles, the artist's long time companion and late husband Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian, and a physician kin, Sabar Farmanfarmaian, who brought modern medicine to Iran.

With all its beauty and peace, Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian's hejleh uses a public art practice, with its long-standing history and its dynamic regime of meaning, to picture her conception of paradise.

Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian's Bio (source: Haines Gallery):

With a distinguished career spanning over 50 years, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian is at the forefront of contemporary Iranian art. Farmanfarmaian spent nearly a decade living in New York during the 1940s and 1950s as an art student and later as a fashion illustrator for the department store Bonwit Teller, where she worked alongside Andy Warhol. She returned to Iran in the 1960s where she quickly established herself as an artist, holding major exhibitions in Tehran, Paris, Venice and New York. After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she took refuge in New York, but returned to Tehran in 2000 where she continues to work today.

Her distinctive aesthetic developed in the late 1960s and 1970s, rooted in a strong passion for her Iranian heritage. During this time, she studied the arts, crafts, customs and rituals of nomadic tribes in the region, and toured ancient cities where she was impressed by their architectural forms and intricate ornamentation. Her work illustrates a commitment to these traditional Persian techniques and patterns, combining mirror mosaics, Islamic geometric patterns and reverse-glass paintings to create works that resonate both with traditional forms and a more modernist aesthetic.

To create her three-dimensional panels, Farmanfarmaian employs master craftsmen to draft her initial designs. Mirrors are then cut to fit the required shape, set in geometrical patterns, and mixed with stucco to produce new compositions that allow the artist to integrate colored glass. The resulting works are complex geometrical patterns that reference a range of influences in Islamic art, architecture, and science.

82 Great Portland Street, London W1
14-30 August 2013
Tuesday to Friday: 12noon - 6pm.
Saturday & Monday by appointment only

[1] The first night has been valorized as "shab-e zafaf" and carries its own symbolic significance.
[2] Karbala is the site of the legendary 7th century battle between the forces of good led by Imam Hussein, the grandson of prophet Mohammad, and the army of evil led by Yazid, the Umayyad caliph, which resulted in the martyrdom of Imam and his companions and family. Aliakbar and Aliasqar are the teenagers that died in the battle. They are remembered by Shia Muslims with particular angst during the ceremonies of Ashura.
[3] In recent years instances of hejleh being erected for young women have also been seen.

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