Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian has been unpacking her fragile artworks and adjusting small pieces of mirror at the Guggenheim Museum all day. Her first comprehensive US exhibition, slated to open to the public tomorrow, is slowly taking shape: a cluster of “disco balls” sparkles in one corner, a set of etched glass doors is raised into place, and geometric illustrations adorn the walls. The 90-year-old artist takes a step back and looks at her life’s work.
Farmanfamaian traces her journey to its beginnings in 1957, when she returned to Tehran after traveling the world, with a new awareness of the tile, wood, and metal artistry behind the Islamic patterns and decorations in mosques. “The metalwork caught my eye,” she tells The Creators Project. During this time, she visited the small Shah Cheragh shrine, with its intricate mosaic of mirror glass and silver ornamentation—an image that stuck in her mind. “That was really magnificent. I said to myself, ‘I wish I could do something this much beautiful movement, color and reflection to bring to people’s houses.’”
Farmanfarmaian began working with an old master of metalworking to bring her designs to reality. She remembers him pointing out that, of all geometric elements, “The hexagon is the master of all.” Today, she continues to use motifs of triangles, squares, pentagons, and hexagons in both her illustrations and sculptural works, interpreting them with new depths, heights, colors, and combinations. With her mirror ball series and structures on pedestals especially, she wanted to take the flat drawings she remembered from mosques, and pull them into three dimensions.
So, after 70 years of making art, what has she learned? “I’m stupid. I learned I don’t know anything. Honest to god,” she chuckles. “There are so many people with greater minds and greater ideas. I’m a small piece of that. I’m a small point. But there is a lot of possibility for the future with the younger generation.”
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian's Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings will be on view at the Guggenheim from March 13–June 3, 2015.