Modern & Contemporary Middle East

Hadieh’s Gift

By Roxane Zand

On my first visit today to the studio of New York-based celebrated Iranian artist Hadieh Shafie (alternate spelling Hedieh, whose name means 'gift' in the Persian language) I realised that I had always thought of her as working in the calligraphic tradition when in reality her practice relates to so much more. Her famed and unique technique of spools or scrolls inscribed with the word 'Eshgh' (love) and packed tightly inside circular frames immediately won accolades, capturing a devoted audience who had to wait for long periods for her painstaking production.  However if like me you were engaging with the visual response only, you are missing a whole other dimension.


Inspired by the arts of the book, Hadieh sees this body of work as an exploration and reinterpretation of the book form, and imagines that each individual work is much like a library of circular, inaccessible books. Her embedded text, hidden inside the rolls of paper which are then painted or dipped in paint, are in fact the subject of a contract between the artist and her audience. Her technique is performance, given the elaborateness and sequentiality of what she commits to do. It recalls a Zen meditation or the sacred 'circularity' of whirling dervishes - based as they both are on repetition and serenity.


Another of her series is based on fore edge painting - a technique which I was lucky enough to witness as she demonstrated it. A pack of paper strips are squeezed horizontally into the edges of a zig zag wooden template, over which the artist makes her mark. Once these strips are re-shuffled in alignment, the word or mark is reorganised and appears distorted, offering a new visual story. The effect can only be fully appreciated in the flesh. Photos of this particular series have never done it justice and the process needs to be seen to be fully understood.  The final result resembles ‘ikat’ fabrics.


Hadieh's work for me has the impact of the Colour Field modernists combined with a reference to Op art; she has the dizzying capacity for craftsmanship we see in Oriental art coupled with a refinement of pattern that vies robustly with the best of contemporary Korean output.


The highlight of my visit was to be amongst the first to see her most recent series, an impressive evolution that builds on her unique voice and yet takes her aesthetic that one step further. Like her previous evolutions, this one also came about as an accident in the studio, but the success of it convinces the viewer that luck had less to do with the passionate creativity of this artist than her love-struck vision of beauty. Wait with bated breath for the unveiling.

To find out more about Hadieh Shafie, please visit her Instagram at

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