Art

A Love Letter to Artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

On now through March 6, James Cohan Gallery in New York presents a two-part solo exhibition of the late Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s work. For Cultured, Iranian American creator Pari Ehsan pens a letter of love and appreciation to Farmanfarmaian and presents a fashion editorial inspired by the artist's work.

Pari Ehsan

Photography by Logan Jackson

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Makeup by Tomomi Sano. Hair by Rochelle Walker. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Fifth Family Pentagon, 2014. Chain-disc mini dress by Paco Rabanne. Crystal hairpiece and crystal fringe mask accessory by Area.

Monir joon,

An angel in mirrored armor, your work reflects the multifaceted divine. A national treasure in your homeland of Iran, you are a hero to its diaspora and now, at an integral moment in time, a star is added to your constellation of influence with gallery representation in New York, a place where you spent nearly four decades of your life.

I close my eyes and wake up to the breeze at dawn, a miracle where two worlds touch. Every day I stare at an image of yours and Frank Stella’s work, which I photoshopped. I ask for a sign, a place where I can go to feel something with my heart. My wish is fulfilled. Stretching across both of James Cohan’s gallery locations in Tribeca and the Lower East Side and forming a trine with my Nolita front door are your iconic mirror-encrusted geometries, symbols of lightness and life! 

Six years have elapsed since I first met you at your show opening at the Guggenheim Museum, your last solo exhibition in New York until now. This time, I greet your spirit, the effusion of grace that emanates boundlessly through the legacy of your works. Space, shape, color, matter and light crystallized onto material forms identify in love with the arc of creation. 

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Installation of 9 Elements, 2004. Braided crystal top, hot short and crystal hairpiece by Area.

As I anchor myself in the eternity of our ancestral geometries, minted with the artisanal delicacy of Persian decoration and refined through the pure form and repetition of Western minimalism, I cannot help but think about how much I needed to immerse myself in the idea of potentiality itself. Monir, you express what it means to hold multiple identities at once, to show diverse narratives in unity. You demonstrate that none of us are part of one huge monolith. 

Your ascent to being recognized as a key figure in the development of abstract art is extraordinary. At the ripe age of 21 you traveled from Iran to the United States, arriving by ship to Los Angeles and then making your way to New York in March 1945. You attended Parsons, shared a day job with Andy Warhol—whom you would later trade a Mirrored Ball for a Marilyn—and ran with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell and Mark Rothko. In the 1950s art scene, you were it. John Cage crowned you “that beautiful Persian girl.”

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Installation of 9 Elements, 2004. Braided crystal top and crystal hairpiece by Area.

In 1957, you moved back to Iran to marry a prince who built you an art studio, it was during this time that you became obsessed with Iranian traditional arts and began to experiment with your own version of ayeneh-kari, the technique of embedding finely-cut mirrored glass in plaster, which dates back to the seventeenth-century in Iran. The strike of inspiration came to you on an encounter with the mirror mosaics of Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz. Enveloped in a living theater of glittering ornament, tiny mirrors cut into hexagons, triangles and squares covering every inch of every surface, your fantasy was to take a piece of that radical beauty and bring it into your life and the lives of others. 

You absorbed and collected the jewels of our Iranian culture voraciously and sought to protect the truth of it. You enlisted a master craftsman of mirror mosaic work to collaborate with you in your studio and had solo exhibitions in Tehran, New York and Paris. This glam period in Iran, which was perhaps on the rocks all along, ended in the fall of the Shah, forcing you into exile back to the U.S. in 1979, for the next 26 years. The majority of your work and the treasures you had accumulated were confiscated. You started life over in America again with veracity. 

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Untitled Maze, 2015. Chain-disc mini dress by Paco Rabanne. Crystal hairpiece and crystal fringe mask accessory by Area.

That brings us to 2004 when you returned to your native Iran. Reunited with your team of craftsmen, you dedicated yourself entirely to the work. This period of divine reintegration and abundant creation bore the fruits of which are currently on view at James Cohan Gallery: transcendental mirror-works and geometric drawings that are the cosmic tableau of your practice.

In my own work, my ultimate wish is to honor you—to intensify the sense of vast historic time sliced into future potential by revolving through Paco Rabanne silver-linked phases of the moon, to skip and drip crystal stars across your universe of shifting surfaces in Area, channeling the limitless possibility of repetition and difference. Monir, you honed your practice so that within the work, one beholds a shining soul, the long view latent potential within us all, a place where heavenly pictures of dreams unmanifested arise. Thank you. 

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Untitled — Convertible Series, 2016. Braided crystal top, hot short, leg warmers and crystal hairpiece by Area. Boots by Nodaleto.