Dubai, Meem Gallery, Parviz Tanavoli and Abbas Kiarostami, 2009-2010, another example exhibited
Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Festival, Middle Eastern Modern Masters, 2010
One of the founding members of the highly influential neo-traditionalist Saqqakhaneh movement in Iran, Tanavoli's work derives much from Iran's rich religious and calligraphic heritage. Indeed it was the very ethos of the movement to reconcile the traditional and the modern aesthetic. Each artist utilised their heritage in their own individual fashion, but it was Tanavoli who refused to become mired in what he came to believe was a derivative art form, an art heavily reliant on western tenets. In response to this he produced his heech.
Heech is a fascinating concept. Literally it is composed of three letters, starting with the Arabic ha. Symbolically, it represents nothingness. A suitable, if secular parallel in western tradtion is the number zero: it is both whole and empty, everything and nothing. So too is the ha, but it is also infused with mystical concepts. To the Sufis ha represents God, for nothingness is an aspect of the divine, and to Islamic numerologists ha is the letter of guidance.
To Tanavoli the heech is a silent protest. Both physically and symbolically it is a return to the very essence of his culture, the concept of God, and a rejection of the western principles that his fellow artists had become – to his mind – too caught up with. It is not just a protest though, conceptually it is a symbol of hope and promise. The heech is full of potential, its gentle body, like that of man, is capable of any movement and expression. It is the emptiness of unlimited possibilities, not an unbending isolation.
Heech should not be understood literally, it is infused with such abstract concepts as time and space, faith and culture. It is relevant in any social context, for the notion of nothingness and destruction of the self is a universal notion. Ultimately in its impressive physical form the heech is as appealing to the western as the eastern eye.
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