Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam in Nishapur, Iran.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) has announced that Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s artwork Khayyam Fountain is now on view at Al Hamriyah Studios in Sharjah. Khayyam Fountain is one of the artist’s most ambitious realised projects, where she draws inspiration from the polymath Omar Khayyam, known for his work on cubic equations, his influence on the development of the Persian calendar as well as his poetry, widely translated into English as the Rubáiyát.
In her homage, Farmanfarmaian interleaves multi-sided shapes — triangles, pentagons and hexagons — to form a tower that rotates precipitously above a hollow base, creating varied refractions of light at different times of the day. The form of the fountain evokes the metaphor of water as a constant fount of life.
“Presenting this work in Al Hamriyah Studios has particular significance as it is the site of the artist’s final retrospective during her lifetime, organised by the Foundation in 2019,” said SAF Director Hoor Al Qasimi.
“The long-term installation of Khayyam Fountain commemorates Farmanfarmaian’s significant and influential artistic practice and reflects the Foundation’s commitment to providing a platform for artists from the MENASA region.
“It’s prominent and central location in Al Hamriyah Studios makes it accessible year-round to the local and international audiences that take part in the Foundation’s exhibitions, public programmes and residences, and we are looking forward to the work becoming a long-term fixture for the public to experience and enjoy.”
Admission to Al Hamriyah Studios is free. The last major installation to be completed by the artist, Khayyam Fountain was commissioned by Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City, Belgium. On long-term loan to SAF, it finds its initial home in Al Hamriyah Studios where the artists’s final retrospective, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Sunset, Sunrise, co-curated by Al Qasimi, was presented (Oct. 12 – Dec. 28, 2019) in collaboration with the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA), Ireland. Sunset, Sunrise was first presented at IMMA from August 10 - November 25, 2018, and was co-curated by Rachel Thomas (Senior Curator, Head of Exhibitions, IMMA) and Al Qasimi.
In a career of over nearly six decades, Farmanfarmaian fashioned luminous abstract sculptures and drawings from glass, mosaic, paper and fabric. Fusing her interests in geometry, Sufism and Islamic architecture, her primary experiments were with pattern, colour and repetition. The result is a kaleidoscopic body of abstract works that brings together her interest in minimalism and the craftsmanship of sixteenth century glass and mosaic sculpting in Iran.Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s Khayyam Fountain.
SAF Senior Curator and Director of Collections Omar Kholeif said that “Khayyam Fountain is an installation that captures the imagination with its complexity, specifically its ethereal interplay with light, and was one of Farmanfarmaian’s most ambitious artworks. “In Sharjah, it is given a new lease of life. Surrounded by windows, beams of light activate the artwork’s myriad glass formations, its tessellating forms change with the day, revealing Farmanfarmaian’s passion of turning glass into an active and animate material — a form of cinema.”
The distinguished career of Farmanfarmaian (1922–2019) spanned more than six decades. She explored the repetition of patterns and forms in Islamic art and architecture to form colourful motifs.
She is noted for having been one of the most prominent Iranian artists of the contemporary period, and she was the first artist to achieve an artistic practice that weds geometric patterns and cut-glass mosaic techniques (Aina-kari) of her Iranian heritage, with the rhythms of modern Western geometric abstraction. By striving to mix Iranian influences and the tradition of mirror artwork with artistic practices outside of strictly Iranian culture, she offered a new way of looking at ancient aesthetic elements, using tools that were not limited to a particular geography. Farmanfarmaian was able to express a cyclical conception of spirituality, space and balance in her mosaics.
Besides her mirror work, she is also known for her paintings, drawings and textile designs. She was born in Qazvin, Iran, in 1924. She moved to New York in 1945 to study art and fashion, and during her time there, she formed friendships with fellow artists such as Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. In 1957, she returned to Iran; however, after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, she found herself exiled to New York. She was able to return to Iran in 2004, where she regained her place in the Iranian art scene. Her work can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo and Sharjah Art Foundation. In 2018, The Monir Museum opened in Tehran as the first solo museum in Iran. Khayyam (1048 – 1131) was a Persian polymath, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet. He was born in Nishapur, in northeastern Iran, and was contemporary with the rule of the Seljuks around the time of the First Crusade.
As a mathematician, he is most notable for his work on the classification and solution of cubic equations, where he provided geometric solutions.
As an astronomer, he designed the Jalali calendar, a solar calendar with a very precise 33-year intercalation cycle that provided the basis for the Persian calendar still in use after nearly a millennium. His poetry became widely known to the English-reading world in a translation by Edward FitzGerald (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 1859), which enjoyed great success in the Orientalism of the fin de siecle.
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