At 94, art still drives Iranian sculptor featured in newest Chrysler exhibit

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"Nonagon" is a sculpture that belongs to a family of shapes titled "Third Family," made in 2011.
“Third Family – Nonagon,” made in 2011. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

NORFOLK — Geography is limitless. No matter the amount of borders or angles that create a shape, there will always be room for more lines and infinite positions to alter its identity.

The Chrysler Museum of Art’s newest exhibit “Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility—Mirror Works and Drawings, 1974–2014” features mirror sculptures and illustrations that seemingly stretch the threshold of geometry. The exhibit is on display at the museum’s Glass Projects Space until July 30 and is free for the public to attend.

Looking at the artwork close up, Farmanfarmaian’s mirror sculptures are geometric shapes within shapes within even more shapes.

“It comes from Monir herself, because she talks about geometry and using it as a basis of her work, that there’s infinite possibility in geometry,” Suzanne Cotter, director of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, said. “The mirror works are one manifestation of her work with geometry.”

Farmanfarmaian's featured mirror sculptures range from being made in 1974 to 2014. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)
Farmanfarmaian’s featured mirror sculptures range from being created in 1974 to 2014. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

The exhibit features artwork from Farmanfarmaian’s first U.S. retrospective, which made its way to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2015 and is part of the Serralves Museum’s permanent collection.

The Chrysler Museum’s curator of glass, Diane Wright, said Farmanfarmaian uses a modern abstract version of a traditional technique to create the mirror sculptures. This cultural compromise came from her time spent hopping between her home in Iran and the United States, where she befriended icons like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.

“It’s a way a we can bring in artists that can approach glass in a different way,” Wright said about hosting the art in Norfolk. “Because [Farmanfarmaian’s] thinking about geometry and the traditional visual culture of Iran, and not just thinking about the material as a primary motivator, that’s a different approach.”

According to a Chrysler Museum news release, when Farmanfarmaian crafted her congruous creations, she traveled often. In 1979, the Iranian Revolution displaced her from her home while she visited her family in the United States. Her home was confiscated and her artwork was destroyed in Iran.

"Murqarnas One," made in 2012 with mirror, reverse oil painting on glass and PVC. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)
“Murqarnas One,” made in 2012 with mirror, reverse oil painting on glass and PVC. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

She stayed in the United States for 26 years before returning to Iran in 2004 to reestablish her studio. Thirteen years later, Iran is one of six countries listed in President Donald Trump’s latest executive order banning travel.

“My mother is furious,” Farmanfarmaian’s daughter Nima Isham said in an interview. “Suddenly there’s a hold on her granddaughter and her great-granddaughter from going there … She takes all these things very personally.”

At 94, Farmanfarmaian still works as an artist in Iran. Some of the art on display at the Chrysler were made as early as 1974 and as late as 2014.

“She’s doing well, she’s still doing art. It’s what drives her,” Isham said. “The moment she gets sick, she just gets so upset she can’t be at the studio. She’s still working up a storm at 94.”

Isham said a museum dedicated to her mother’s artwork is set to open in a historic building from the Qajar period in Tehran, Iran in May.

“They’re opening the first museum dedicated to a single artist in Iran. It’s a single artist and it’s a woman, which is amazing,” Isham said. “It’s just has stunning flooring, high ceilings with these old windows and these gorgeous chandeliers, which of course are going to be removed because they clash with my mom’s work.”

Farmanfarmaian's drawings on display at the Chrysler Museum. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)
Farmanfarmaian’s drawings on display at the Chrysler Museum. (Justin Belichis/Southside Daily)

Though Farmanfarmaian’s work seems to garner more attention late in her life, it is fueling the creative drive for young Hampton Roads artists.

Raesah Islam, owner of Virginia Beach creative studio Utopia Fenni, said her gallery is hosting a community exhibition Saturday, March 18 titled “Infinite Reflections,” featuring local artists’ interpretation of Farmanfarmaian’s work.

“I could probably be in this room for hours honestly,” Islam said looking at Farmanfarmaian’s work at the Chrysler Thursday. “Just thinking about how she actually constructed it, I can’t see how a human did this.”

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