Poetry as Art: Four Iranian Artists Show Text-Based Works in London

[print_responsive_video_grid id=”2″]

By Corrie Parsonson

What would language look like as visual art? Four Iranian artists provide answers to that question in an exhibition that runs through April 29 at the Gerald Moore Gallery in southeast London.

In The Ocean Can Be Yours, verses from some of the world’s best-known poets inspire a range of vibrant artworks. Poets including Britain’s Ted Hughes and Iran’s great Farid al-Din Attar heavily influence the art on display. The exhibition’s title itself is a direct quote from Attar’s celebrated Sufi poem, “The Conference of the Birds,” a 4,500-line epic written in the 12th century.

“I was looking for an opportunity to show the best of Iranian art in London,” said the exhibition’s curator, Janet Rady, who has been working with Iranian artists for 10 years. “The theme came naturally to me with these artists who are working with poetry, English and Persian.”

London-based Afsoon combines sound with her artworks: You put on the wireless headset and hear the poems read – in their native tongue – while you take in the work with your eyes.

Afsoon was born in Iran in 1961. Her frequently text-based, mixed-media work has featured in venues from Los Angeles and London to Marrakesh, and is owned by the British Museum, the Fondation Pierre Bergé (France), the Yves Saint Laurent Collection (France), and the Cellmark Contemporary Art Collection (Sweden).

The other three featured artists are Manchester-based Ghalamdar, U.S.-based Jason Noushin and Paris-based Katayoun Rouhi.

(L to R): Jason Noushin, Katayoun Rouhi, Ghalamdar, and Afsoon at the exhibition opening. Photograph, Corrie Parsonson

Ghalamdar ( “the writer”), born in Iran in 1994, draws his inspiration from the Saqqakhaneh movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as from Shi’i iconography and folk elements that he translates into graffiti. He remains an active member of the Calligraffiti community, whose work can be seen in spaces including the Fondation Behram Bakhtiar in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (France) and at the Emergeast Gallery (the online platform based in Dubai.)

Born in 1969, Iranian-British artist, Jason Noushin, lived in Tehran, Paris and London before settling in New Haven, Connecticut. He draws, paints, prints and sculpts as he explores the themes of memory, displacement and cross-cultural identity.

Katayoun Rouhi, born in 1965 in Iran, has lived and worked in Paris since 1985. Since obtaining a doctorate at the Sorbonne in 2003, she has focused on ‘painting poetry,’ merging the pictorial with elegance in a quest for articulate connections. She has exhibited across the Middle East and Europe, and examples of her work are in the collections of the Polychronopoulos Foundation (Athens) and the Méshkinfam Foundation and Museum, Shiraz, Iran.

Located on the grounds of Eltham College in Mottingham, southeast London, the Gerald Moore Gallery was built with a bequest from the English artist Gerald Moore, an alumnus of Eltham College. The gallery shows a variety of international artists. A roomful of Matisse’s brightly colored paper cut-outs were on display at the same time as the Iranian artists’ exhibition.

Rady founded her eponymous London gallery in 2008. She represents cutting-edge contemporary Iranian and Arab artists including Fereydoun Ave, Firouz FarmanFarmaian and Hanibal Srouji. Artists she represents have works in institutions such as the British Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California, among others.