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Luminous gratitude
Law school presented with art

By Fathali Ghahremani
April 2, 2004

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian has presented the School of Law at Colombia University with one of her spectacular works of art. The work, known as "Luminous Desert", was hung in the Colombia University Law School library's Jerome L. Green Hall. She presented the work in honor of her husband, Dr. Abol Bashar Farmanfarmaian, a doctoral graduate in international law from Colombia's Law School.

Mrs. Farmanfarmaian has made a career of combining traditional Iranian palatial, sacred, and folk arts with a uniquely modern and post-contemporary aesthetic. As early as the 1970's, she drew on the geometric patterns of traditional Islamic art, as well as the mirror and glasswork of traditional interior design, to create a series of secular geometric images and stainless steel sculptures that were simultaneously historically derivative, and completely avant-garde.

Farmanfarmaian has gone on to engage the rich traditions of Iranian art in her work, especially the areas of folk art and handicraft that have received little exposure in the west. Her body of work portrays her comfort with the Western canon, a technical appreciation for high craftsmanship, and an artistic vision infused with originality: but it is her allegiance to isolating out the novel elements of traditional Persian design that sets her apart from her contemporaries.

While living in Iran, Farmanfarmaian was an avid collector. She sought out paintings behind glass, traditional tribal jewelry and potteries, and amassed one of the greatest collections of "coffee-house paintings" in the country -- commissioned paintings by folk artists as coffee-house, story-telling murals.

Elements of these pieces find their way into all of Farmanfarmaian's later works, as she applied the traditional techniques and combined them with her western art education. To this day, she remains the only artist who explores the potential of mirror and glass as one of her main media. Her use of glass and mirror work, geometric design, calligraphic elements, traditional stucco technique, and collage -- her affinity for merging the secular with the profane, and the popular with the profound -- foreshadows a post-colonial sensibility. She forces her audience to observe old beauty in new ways.

Farmanfarmaian was born Qazvin, Iran, in1924. Having started her studies in Fine Arts at the Tehran university, she was one of the first Iranian students to come to the United States after World War II to complete her studies in Fine Arts study at Cornell University. She graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1949 and became a Member of the New York Art Students' League (1950-53).

Farmanfarmaian has participated in a number of national and international exhibitions. She participated in the Venice Biennale (Gold Medal 1958, 1964, 1966), and the first Tehran Biennial (1958). Her works have been exhibited extensively in Tehran, the US, and Europe, most notably at the Iran American Society (1973 and 1976); the Italian Institute (1966 and 1968); Jacques Kaplan Gallery in New York; the Kennedy Center, Washington DC (1975); Gallerie Denise Rene, Paris and New York (1977).

Farmanfarmaian has also been involved with several group shows, including The Heritage of Islam (New York, 1982-84); Bernice Steinbaum Gallery touring exhibition (1985-86); Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1986-87). Her works are currently on display in the Carpet Museum, Tehran; the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art; Niyavaran Cultural Centre, Tehran; Grey Art Gallery at New York University; Hotel Intercontinental, Tehran and Shiraz; Jeddah International Airport, Saudi Arabia; and Chase Manhattan Bank, New York.

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By Fathali Ghahremani


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