Modern & Contemporary Middle East

Three Notable Women in 20th Century Middle Eastern Art

By Sotheby's
Sotheby’s 20th Century Middle Eastern Art sale on 23 October includes three works by three female artists painted during the 1960s-1970s, a politically and culturally active period in the region.

L eyly Matine Daftary's work comes from a different era in Iran's history. Girl with Flower N21 is a striking and an extremely rare painting by Leyly which is reminiscent of a Tehran long forgotten. The pre-revolutionary Iran in the 1960s-1970s was going through the arts renaissance aligned with the government support including the foundation of Tehran MoCA by Empress Farah Diba in 1977 and with celebrity figures such as Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor visiting the country.

Born in 1937, Leyly was raised in a highly political and cultured family – her father Ahmad Matine-Daftary was a driving force of modernization of the economy, and her maternal grandfather, Dr Mohammed Mossadeq nationalized Iranian oil. She herself however veered towards the creative and the artistic, having graduated from London’s Slade School of Art and returning to Iran to teach sculpture. Expressing herself in compositions that are both unique and universal, her works have the widest appeal, are extremely rare to come up on the market and are held in leading collections around the world.

Fahrelnissa Zeid was born in 1901 under the Ottoman Empire into a family of intellectuals. Before long she became one of the leading artists of Nouvelle École de Paris spending most of her life between Paris and London.

A princess in her own right, she was known mostly for her large abstract paintings and striking portraiture. This rare family portrait from 1979 of one of Fahrelnissa’s family members offers a glimpse into the tender and intimate side of the artist with its affectionate portrayal of a young boy in soft and harmonious tones. For Fahrelnissa, abstraction or portraiture were at the core of it the same thing, as they were both pure studies of form and colour. Fahrelnissa has recently received the recognition she deserves from global institutions with exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London and the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle, Berlin in 2017-2018 and a new biography written by Adila Laïdi-Hanieh, Ph.D in 2017.

Munira Al Kazi was one of the first female artists from the Gulf Community. Her paintings portray women in graceful shapes glorifying femininity. This painting from circa 1960 is about the poignant subject of mother and child. The outlines of the figures almost disappear into the background, critiquing how women are seen as decorative objects in a household, while the allusions to fertility reference how women are often regarded as tools for the creation of offspring. Works by Munira Al-Kazi very rarely come up on the market so this is a work not to be missed by any collector interested in the region.

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