By Tara Biglari
Monir Farmanfarmaian and Y.Z. Kami are two of the world’s most prominent Iranian-born artists. Their works were recently on show in a London exhibition celebrating the 700th anniversary of The Garden of Mystery (Gulshan-i raz) by the Iranian poet Mahmood Shabistari.
The Garden of Mystery, written in December 1317, is widely considered to be one of the most prominent Persian works of Sufism. The poem takes a question-and-answer form as Shabistari replies to a fellow mystic’s interrogations on spirituality. This seminal work has inspired thinkers and artists alike across the ages.
The Asia House exhibition was curated in such a way as to include works that related to the core tenets of Shabistari’s thinking. While the artworks differed in style, they all touched on themes of spirituality, meditation and enlightenment.
Monir Farmanfarmaian, who had a retrospective in 2015 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, drew viewers in with her mirror mosaic “Hexagon,” created in 1977. Monir’s use of geometric patterns reflect the doctrine of Divine Unity, and the mirror of the heart referenced by Shabistari in The Garden of Mystery. Farmanfarmaian is also inspired by the beauty of the female form, as evidenced by a tender untitled drawing from 2012.
The exhibition also featured oil-on-linen paintings by the Iranian-American artist Y.Z. Kami. He is well known for making allusions in his work to different faiths and philosophies. “Hands” shows a pair of hands joined in prayer. Light is another frequent motif in his work. “Halo,” for example, pictures a woman surrounded by a yellow circle of light.
Afshar, a painter and sculptor, is also fascinated with light, both physical and metaphysical. His 2016 “Letting Light In” series, which was displayed in the exhibition, relates to the spiritual awakening that results from deep reflection. In the painting “Forever Illuminate the Eyes of All Hearts,” his abstract mix of colors harks back to the meditative process described by Shabistari. The landscapes in his paintings are a metaphor for the internal landscapes of human beings.