Office chairs upholstered in mourning fabric, Arabic calligraphy covering white walls like black foliage, and graphic patterns with horrific details—these are just a sampling of Parastou Forouhar’s multimedia artwork.
Born and raised in Tehran, Forouhar was 17 when the Iranian revolution of 1979 occurred. Since 1991 she has lived and worked in Germany. Tragically, both her parents, who were intellectuals and activists, were killed in 1998 by the regime. Forouhar has personally been investigating their murders for years by traveling back to Iran, but also by exploring it through art:
Enforced ethnic identification took a new turn with the assassination of my parents in their home in Tehran. My efforts to investigate this crime had a great impact on my personal and artistic sensibilities. Political correctness and democratic coexistence lost their meaning in my daily life. As a result, I have tried to distill this conflict of displacement and transfer of meaning, turning it into a source of creativity.
Her work, which I learned about through a new book from Suki Press, Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran, does just that: using a variety of materials (cloth, video animation, graphic design), and drawing on Persian art traditions and Iranian culture, Forouhar draws troubling connections between identity and exile, state and the individual, past and present, beauty and horror.
I find some of Forouhar’s most striking work to be her “digital drawings.” Forouhar creates magnificent, graphic patterns with eye-catching, contrasting colors that are striking in their aesthetic and beautiful in their arrangement. But when you peer closer, and sit longer with these patterns, they reveal something horrific. Faceless prisoners contort under anonymous guards and bold, bluntly depicted weapons. Instruments of torture make up the intricate, geometric backdrop of violence.
Four from “Drawings Series II”, 2009. Click for detail.
Forouhar said the following about these drawings:
The moment the appearance of beauty disintegrates and turns into cruelty, you have to bear the resulting ambivalence, particularly because the beauty is not lost in the process…At first glance, you see the beautiful pattern and think you have understood it. And then you get closer and realize it is completely different. The viewer is thrown back on himself and is forced to re-evaluate his perception.
Three images from “RED is my name, GREEN is my name I,” 2008. Click for detail:
Other works of art include “Written Room,” where Forouhar has covered walls with Shekasteh calligraphy with fragments of words, memories, and names. You can get a certain spacial sense of it in this YouTube video, which has violin accompaniment at an Italian exhibit:
Below is “The Funeral,” where Farouhar draped office chairs with mourning wear. (In the background of this photograph, you can see her photograph “Friday.”)
Her body of work is extremely varied, so definitely seek out more online (here is a good YouTube video from the Brooklyn Museum of her talking about her work in English) or by checking out Parastou Forouhar: Art, Life and Death in Iran. The affordable book is the first English-language monograph about her and will hopefully introduce her to a wider audience. Available from Saqi books.