Facing the present
Two artists interpret the Postmodern age
By Roshanak Keyghobadi
October 5, 2001
Click on images to see larger paintings
Farah Ossuli is a painter and Hadi Farahani is a caricaturist. Although
their style, technique and medium of their choice are very different from
one another, they are tied together by their use of traditional miniature
painting iconography and introduction of the contemporary issues and spaces
in their frame of work.
Both Farah Ossuli and Hadi Farahani have graphic design
backgrounds. Ossuli graduated from College of Fine Arts at Tehran University
in 1977 and she lives in Iran. Farahani completed his high school studies
as a graphic design major at high school of visual arts for boys in Tehran
and he lives in Canada. Ossuli works in guache on heavy cardboard and in
full color. She studied traditional miniature painting under Mahmoud Farshchian
and her knowledge and mastery of traditional miniature painting techniques
and color combinations are obvious in her paintings.
What makes her work differ from traditional miniature paintings is how
she creates and divides the format and visual spaces in a modernist style.
Her style of positioning the elements and figures in relationship to created
spaces, and the contrast between shapes, colors and textures produces the
feeling of simultaneous presence of past and present, old and new in her
work. She creates constant interaction between sharp and soft forms, dark
and bright colors, textured and flat surfaces, decorative and minimalist
compositions in her paintings.
Ossuli selects formats that mostly consists of stripes
of rectangular spaces crowded with female or male figures, trees, birds
and flowers that are in contrast to stripes or planes of empty spaces next
to them. In this style, Ossuli puts congested against void and enclosed
against open. She invites you inside and yet shows you the outside. The
dark and muddy colors are sitting besides brilliant and radiant colors in
her paintings as if she is drawing the attention of the viewer to life's
Titles such as, Nest and Flight, Meeting Night, Beginning
and End, Khosrow and Shirin, Yosef and Zolaykha indicates
that Ossuli's subject matters are mostly very poetic or based on famous
stories like Ferdosi's Shahnameh, Saadi's Boostan or other
classic writings of the past. Her compositions and choice of colors create
calm and quite. It is as if Ossuli's miniature beings had accepted their
place in this contrasting environment and are in harmony with their painted
faith, although their stripes of rectangular lives are getting narrower
and tighter and Ossuli is covering their surrounding with more void and
Are Ossuli's miniature people representing the past
or the present? Why Ossuli selects this kind of format for her paintings?
Are her contrasting spaces squeezing the colorful miniature beings and narrowing
their windows of existence or broadening their landscape of vision? Are
these people peaking through Ossuli's windows to see and explore environment
of present or are they inviting us into their world of past?
The visual binary codes of representation are working full force in Farahani's
pen and ink caricatures drawings where ornamental miniature men and women
are in contrast with their erased traditional ornamental environment, space
and existence. Farahani's characters are not situated in traditional miniature
scenes, participating in majestic garden parties or hunting scene or looking
from balconies in to their lover's eyes. The past lovers are involved in
present daily chores of the real life and present time.
Outside the story books, the princess/lover/wife is
washing her royal wash and hanging it from the cloth line or knitting clothes
for her unborn child while the prince/lover/husband figure is enjoying his
nap or smoking his water pipe high up in the veranda. Aside from his male
and female figures and their humorous relationships to a totally "modern
life, Farahani depicts his ornamental miniature man in contrast to the visually
minimal contemporary man.
Unlike Ossuli's isolated and contained person, Hadi Farahani's miniature
person is busy and involved in present and is trying to blend in, understand,
imitate, fight, liberate, escape, survive or recover from this world and
its minimal mostly dominant and cruel people. The title of Farahani's book
of caricatures is Zir-O-Zebar (bottom & top or high & low
in Persian) and his caricatures clearly represent the icons of the past
or symbols that are associated with traditional Eastern person, which is
a delicate miniature drawing, situated lower than the solid and powerful
icons and symbols of the modern, contemporary Western beings who are higher
up in status and power structure.
Unlike Ossuli's paintings that encourages calm and
quite, Farahani's dark humor is reflected in his powerful caricatures that
are full of social, political and artistic statements and questions. By
creating opposing situations and conditions in his drawings, he asks: how
do one deals with technology, colonalization, westernization, contemporary
art issues, mental isolation and depression, pollution, poverty, alienation
and annihilation? Is Farahani depicting defeat or triumph? How is his miniature
person dealing with his/her present situation? Is modern life with its highs
and lows offering any hope and encouragement?
Ossuli and Farahani's works are similar in the way they are responding
to the Postmodern era and interpreting the past in relationship to present
and how they blend together the elements of old and new in their art. Both
artists are facing the present and the contemporary time, and portraying
how humankind deals with the Postmodern life, age of anxiety and illusion,
fragmentation and alienation. But what makes their artwork different is
that Ossuli is making peace with present where Farahani is questioning it.
Roshanak Keyghobadi is an assistant professor at State University
of New York - Farmingdale, and teaches visual communications and graphic