The art community across the world publicly mourned when Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian died earlier this year at the age of 96. The powerhouse artist reached her peak of fame at the end of her long and fascinating life, which makes retrospectives such as the one currently on show at Sharjah Art Foundation not only timely but enlightening. Sunset, Sunrise first appeared in Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in 2018. Co-curated by Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi, the show features over 70 pieces including painting, sculpture, tapestry and collages, alongside jewellery, mirror mosaics, and drawings from her Iranian studio.
The show poignantly charts the personal and professional journey of Farmanfarmaian who began her career in the 1940s when she moved to New York from Tehran with her first husband. There she associated with artists of influence such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frank Stella as well as Andy Warhol. She spent her life in both Tehran and New York and was best known for her interest in mirror mosaics and geometry, which became trademarks of her long and illustrious career.
A 2016 film made by Bahman Kiarostami named Monir is also part of the exhibition and reveals biographical detail about her time in America as well as a pivotal moment when she saw the Shah Cheragh, a mosque in Shiraz with a domed hall covered in hexagonal mirrors. She describes it in her memoir as a “universe unto itself”, full of fluid light and fractured solids. It was from then on, that Farmanfarmaian incorporated the ancient Persian tradition of aineh-kari (using broken shards of mirror to create mosaics), into her practice. Whilst mesmerising, the mirrored works also have a transcendental quality that combine a kind of reverence for the holy places in which she saw them as well as an irreverence, captured in the playful nature of the works. It is this dichotomy that characterised Farmanfarmaian’s life and work. As she lived between East and West, her practice embodied both influences as well as simultaneously, the ancient and the contemporary.
The curatorial drive in this show very much underlines this. This exhibition is bookended by two mosaic works from 2015. The exhibition title pieces Sunset and Sunrise combine mirrors and sacred geometry and a kind of innate movement caused by the reflections of light, which is a strand of thought that the artist continued to pursue until the very end of her career allowing her work to enlighten the viewer both metaphorically and literally.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue co-published by IMMA and Sharjah Art Foundation. The publication features contributions from Rahel Aima, Hoor Al Qasimi, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Tina Kinsella, Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Rachel Thomas and Murtaza Vali, together with poetry by Michael Davitt, Rumi and Sohrab Sepehri. A new limited-edition print of a work by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, titled Sunrise, is available for purchase at the foundation’s art shops.
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Sunset, Sunrise. Running through 28 December, 2019 Al Hamriyah Studios, Al Hamriyah, Sharjah