Aesthetic ancient traditions all stem from cultures that prevailed, often at similar times or following one another. We need only look at the history of the Middle East and South Asia to see the overarching themes and sprawl of religions that influenced the art and culture. Sotheby’s head of Contemporary and Modern Arab and Iranian art Ashkan Baghestani and Yamini Mehta, international head of South Asian art, compare works by both Modern and Contemporary masters in their respective fields whose works illustrate the closely related thought processes that have manifested in differing ways.
This article originally appeared in Vogue India
ALI BANISADR, CREATION, 2012.
If you like: Imran Qureshi, look at Ali Banisadr (Iran)
Ali Banisadr’s art utilises the memories of his chaotic childhood alongside a keen art historical awareness that references medieval paintings as well as Futurism and Abstract Expressionism. His exuberant brushstrokes create fantastical scenes often compared to those of the 15th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch as well as celestial Persian miniatures from the Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings. His textures and vibrant tones tend to evoke experiences of taste, smell and sound. The artist has avowed that the subject matter of his paintings is based on three things: “the history of myself, the history of our century, and the history of art.” While Banisadr is influenced by Persian miniatures, Imran Qureshi draws from those by the Mughals and Rajputs. His drawings and paintings are intricate and intimate, and of late, his installations at the Sharjah Biennial and the Met have received critical acclaim. Both artists’ delicate detailing captures complex narratives. Where Banisadr evokes memories of his experiences as an Iran-Iraq war refugee, Qureshi depicts the violence in his native city, Lahore, using lotuses that resemble wounds, thus contrasting beauty and purity with bloodshed.
ETEL ADNAN, CALIFORNIA, 1982.
If you like: Nasreen Mohamedi, look at: Etel Adnan (Lebanon)
Etel Adnan moved to California at an early age and spent her life painting the landscape. Adnan uses paint such that it reaches its fullest opaque density; heavy impasto is a must. She aims to have the oil paint give physical weight to abstract shapes and forms. While her vibrant, expressive paintings do not make explicit references to political and social issues, they reflect Adnan’s call for an intense engagement with the world. The rapid, thick strokes of her palette knife chronicle scenes of personal importance to the artist, particularly Mount Tamalpais near her home in California as well as the Mediterranean sea. The landscape’s distinct forms—mountains, horizon, sea, sun—are knitted together, recording minute shifts of sensory experience and offering an empathetic response to the natural world against violence and indifference. Nasreen Mohamedi conveyed non-representational pieces that hearkened to an abstracted view of landscapes and horizons while also incorporating influences from the geometry of Islamic art and architecture. Born pre-Partition, Mohamedi is considered to be one of the most important South Asian Modern artists. Both Adnan and Mohamedi have had major international retrospectives at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and at the Met Breuer, New York, respectively, outlining the importance of their non-figural works and portraying the underlying rhythms of natural phenomena.
BAHMAN MOHASSESS, UNTITLED (SATYR OR PAN), 1965.
If you like: Bhupen Khakhar, look at: Bahman Mohassess (Iran)
Bahman Mohassess admired Picasso, Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti, interpreting them through the muscularity of forms seen in his works. His early compositions followed the archetypal rules initiated by the Cubists. However, when further developing his style, Mohassess began to abandon a formal perspective, successfully creating more emotionally charged paintings. He shared with Michelangelo a love of the male form and an undeniable sculptural quality in execution. Bhupen Khakhar came from a conservative background and trained as an accountant. He started his artistic career later in life, documenting society, the under-classes and, most importantly, his own internal struggles with his sexuality and mortality. Both artists’ works, figurative in nature, reference mythological themes emphasising a male-centric love and gaze. Khakhar’s seminal retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2016, and the exhibition Unedited History, Iran 1960-2014 featuring Mohassess, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, are testaments to their own experiences with their conservative surroundings.
MONIR FARMANFARMAIAN, VARIATIONS ON HEXAGON AND OCTAGON MIRROR, 2005.
If you like: Zarina, look at: Monir Farmanfarmaian (Iran)
Monir Farmanfarmaian’s pioneering artwork draws inspiration from classical Iranian culture. The intriguing combination of the traditional with the avant garde creates a distinctive style that the artist applies to reinterpret Islamic geometric designs in a variety of mediums. While her rich mirrormosaic recalls the work of Frank Stella—a friend of Farmanfarmaian’s from her time in New York—the initial spark came from her countless travels through her native land. In Variations on Hexagon and Octagon Mirror (2005), for instance, she reaches near perfection, blending both circles and angular, intricate mirrors carrying a mystical Sufist meaning, such as a reflection of the self. The mirror is also variously associated with purity, brightness, symmetry, veracity and fortune. The red hexagon at the core of the work reflects the virtues of generosity, self-discipline, patience, determination, insight and compassion. Zarina, interest in whose work from the 1970s has seen a resurgence, similarly makes extensive use of tessellations and geometric patterns. She has lived between India, Pakistan, Japan and New York, which explains her exploration of the concept of home, dislocation and the politics of space. Her etchings, woodcuts and cast paper works all embrace conventions of geometric ideals and abstraction, much like the strict arrangement of shapes in Farmanfarmaian’s work.
Sotheby’s collaborated with Vogue India on the launch of Vogue Art.