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  • Apr 21, 2019

Obituary: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (1922–2019)

Two panels from Lightning for Neda, 2009, created for the sixth Asia-Pacific Triennial at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.

These experiences informed her own work as she began to work with Iranian craftsman Hajji Ostad Mohammad Navid to use the mirror-mosaic technique of aineh-kari—which dates back to the 16th century—and reverse-painted glass, to create panels that fused the geometrical complexity of Islamic architecture with a style of postwar abstraction. In 1958, she participated in the first Tehran Biennial, organized by Armenian-Iranian artist Marcos Grigorian under Tehran’s General Administration of Fine Arts, and the Iran Pavilion at the 1958 Venice Biennale, where she won a gold medal. Throughout the 1970s, she exhibited at galleries in New York and Paris, and was commissioned to create works for the Empress Farah Diba’s office and living spaces in the Niavaran Palace in Tehran.

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Farmanfarmaian and her husband were forced into exile and her collections of Iranian decorative arts, and many of her works from the time, were confiscated. Though she continued to make artwork and hold exhibitions, from the late 1980s until the mid-1990s, her activity tapered. Following the death of her husband in 1991 she returned to Iran for the first time after the revolution, and eventually relocated back to Tehran in the early 2000s.

In collaboration with a team of craftspeople, she burst back onto the international scene with shows at the Grey Art Gallery at New York University (2002); the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (2006–07); and The Third Line Gallery, Dubai (2007). At the sixth Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), she produced a massive six-panel mirrored mosaic titled Lightning for Neda (2009) as a tribute to the young woman killed in a pro-democracy protest in Tehran. A planned exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran was cancelled after the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran in 2005.  

A retrospective of her works “Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings 1974–2014” was curated by Suzanne Cotter at the Fundação de Serralves in Porto, Portugal and toured to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2015. Her retrospective “Sunset, Sunrise,” which was first staged at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin in 2018, will travel to the Sharjah Art Foundation this November. Her works are in numerous prestigious private and public collections, including the Guggenheim; The Metropolitan Museum, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Jameel Collection, London; QAGOMA, Brisbane; The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Swisscorp Bank, Geneva; and The Sharjah Art Foundation.

HG Masters is deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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