Sculptor and poet Bizhan Bassiri weaves together history and fate at the 57th Venice Biennale’s Iranian Pavilion

Culture has the potential to enrich, enliven and inspire us. In countries like Iran, whose cultural history extends as far back as the Medes, the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian empires of classical antiquity, the ability of artists to draw inspiration from such vast reserves of cultural history can be overwhelming.

In Tapesh: The Golden Reserve of Magmatic Thought, the title of Iran’s pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, a mesmerising series of installations by sculptor and poet Bizhan Bassiri is presented. The exhibition features a series of sculptures and installations that the artist conceived as a way of conveying the idea of utopia through poetry. Curated by Majid Mollanoroozi, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, the pavilion is installed inside the Palazzo Donà delle Rose, a Venetian Gothic palace located in the Sestiere area of San Polo in Venice, and features a number of Bassiri’s better-known works alongside newly commissioned pieces.

Bassiri’s work speaks not only to his roots, but also to the ability of culture to cross-pollinate and bind people together. Upon leaving Iran in 1975 Bassiri landed in Rome, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. Bassiri has never forgotten his Persian cultural roots, however, which are noticeable in the trajectory of his work that has wowed critics for its ability to blend Eastern and Western art historical influences.

For the artist’s installation in Venice, the title of which references Bassiri’s Manifesto of Magmatic Thought, initially developed in 1984, but which the artist continued to evolve and reference up until 2015, the works on display feature sculptures, painting, music and poetry. The exhibition crystalises around works that beg the viewer to question the role of art in an age when poetry and aesthetics have given way to deeply politicised forms of socially engaged art. One of the must-see exhibitions of the Biennale, Bassiri’s work leaves viewers in contemplation of an original language and visual vocabulary, ultimately connecting themes such as history and fate in unique and compelling ways.

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Biennial & Museum Acquisitions #41, pages 96-97.