I t seemed impossible for a new museum to open in Tehran when so many other concerns were brewing - the challenges of a relationship with the US, inter-regional discord, economic issues and so forth. But for this new museum to be the first ever dedicated to a female artist (few enough of these exist the world over!) seemed an even greater unlikelihood.
Monir Shahroudy FarmanFarmaian once again in her life has broken the mould. The first ever female Iranian artist to have a solo show at the Guggenheim NY, she has long been accustomed to accolades and awards. A nonagenarian who counts the likes of Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning as her friends, she has travelled the world and despite her uniquely Iranian voice, has created art with a peculiarly universal appeal.
On 15 December 2017, the Monir Museum opened at the historic Negarstan Park gardens. It displays 51 works, including her iconic mirror mosaic pieces, abstract monotypes and reverse glass paintings, inspired by the geometric patterns and motifs of her beloved Iranian architecture, especially in mosques.
This is the type of art every Iranian is familiar with - from the rich to the poor, as everyone relates to the interior of a mosque and the glories of Islamic mirrorwork. At the other end of the spectrum, an extraordinary Hall of Mirrors at the Golestan Palace built by the Qajars symbolized the extravagance of Oriental wealth and glory. Most of the collection in the Monir Museum have recently been donated by the artist, and managed by Tehran University.
Monir (now recognised by her first name, in the tradition of household-name celebrities like Madonna) gifted her works to honour her last husband Abolbashar FarmanFarmaian who taught law at Tehran University. Her works are also held in major collections around the world, and by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate Modern.
These works combine complex geometric patterns with elements of abstract expressionism; at times they appear like shards and fragments of shattered mirrors, at others they radiate a spectacular symmetry that harks to sacred Islamic patterns. The artist has said of her work, "...It starts with a triangle, then moves towards a 10-sided polygon...showing the infinite possibilities of geometric forms."
At a time when nothing is simple or easy to achieve, it seems Monir FarmanFarmaian's greatest achievement has been the feat of overcoming all the restraints, politics and and confines of what it means to unveil a museum in her honour - as a 90-odd year old woman, formerly exiled wife to a wealthy family a few of whom spent some years in Revolutionary prisons. She has transcended these barriers, proving that art (and perhaps seniority) can trump all else.