Sm{art}: The Intricate Horror of Parastou Forouhar

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.

A digital drawing of pink figures on a pink background. Pink figures of a captor striking, curved bold black whips over a prone figure are repeated and arranged over a pink background. A digital drawing of pink figures on a pink background. Pink figures of a captor oppressing another figure bound to a striking, black rack are repeated and arranged over a pink background.

A digital drawing of pink figures bound by the necks with black rope, with black blindfolds and handbinds oppressing another. The rope from their neck binds are being held by an upright pink figure. These figures are repeated and arranged over a the image. A digital drawing of pink figures with their feet and hands bound by black rope, being stretched in both directions by upright figures. The figure who is being tortured has fan-like, long black hair, signaling that they are female, their torturers male. These figures are repeated and arranged over a the image.

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:

A digital drawing of graphic green guns over a tan background. Figures of limp human beings are woven in along the left side. A digital drawing of graphic tan phalluses over a red background. Figures of crouched human beings with their hands bound are woven in down the the middle.

A digital drawing of graphic green clippers over a tan background. Human figures of a captor binding and/or blindfolding another figure appear overlaid in the same pattern.

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.”)

picture from a gallery

Forouhar standing in front of one of her exhibitsHer 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.

All images from, except for the image of Forouhar credit:

Previously: Lorna Simpson, Angela Singer

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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2 Comments Have Been Posted

Holy mother, this is

Holy mother, this is amazing... I think I've found a new artist to obsess over.

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nice here, thank you for your sharing, very beautiful !!!

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