Parastou Forouhar Reflects on Migrants’ Language, Makes Temporary Work of Art

The Iranian contemporary artist Parastou Forouhar has a tragic family history: In 1998, her parents Dariush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were political activists, were assassinated at their home in Tehran.

Forouhar recently filled a London gallery with a unique and ephemeral work. The site of her singular experiment: the Pi Art Work Gallery (branch of a major Istanbul art space).

For the three days leading up to the opening, Forouhar transformed the gallery into a single artwork – an artwork that would be covered in white paint at the end of the exhibition (in late July) and, in the artist’s own words, “transformed into a part of this space’s historic memory.”

This is not the first time that Forouhar’s Written Room has been on display. For the past 20 years, Forouhar has filled galleries in many different countries with her short-lived and enigmatic designs.

Forouhar embellishes spaces with Persian inscriptions that – unlike traditional calligraphy, which is rooted in a phrase’s meaning – have no literary significance. She invites the viewer to go on a search for these meaningless words. The ping-pong balls inscribed with calligraphy and strewn across the floor of the gallery accompany the viewer on this journey into what is effectively a broken space.

Speaking to Kayhan London at her exhibition opening, Forouhar said: “A writing that is illegible is subject to questioning, because it frees language from its main function, which is the communication of concepts.” Written Room effectively “breaks the rule that writing is the basis for the communication of concepts, and focuses instead on the writing’s rhythm and calligraphic design.”

“As these writings occupy the entire exhibition space – from the walls to the floors and ceilings – they define the place in a certain way, and effectively break with the architectural framework,” she explained. The viewer is freed and liberated from the weight of words and the dominance of place.

As for the lines covering the walls, “the eye follows them, breaking away from the rigid architectural frameworks that are the straight walls and floor, and upsetting the room’s overall balance. The egg-shaped balls and their soft sound accentuate this fragility.”

The meaningless language of Written Room’s calligraphy is illustrative of the changes in a language that is packed into a suitcase by the migrant when he or she leaves the homeland.

To Forouhar, a mother tongue “loses its daily function during migration and is transformed into a memory or pattern from the past, because in daily life, the migrant has very little do with his or her mother tongue.”

“The migrant does not own his or her new place; he enters it and changes it,” she added. “I have also entered this space, changed it, broken its rules, and transformed it into something else.”