Drawing inspiration from the clash of modernity and tradition in contemporary Iranian culture, Farhad Moshiri's oeuvre contemplates in numerous ways the existential crisis inherent to the modern Middle East.
In this series of works featuring numbers and letters overlaid and intertwined to form either an abstract design or a meaningful pattern depending on the perspective, Moshiri combines two very distinct artistic traditions in a visual puzzle drawing on optical illusion.
To a western eye, without knowledge of Arabic letters and numerals or Islamic tradition, this canvas has an intentionally abstract expressionist quality that can be likened to the works of Willem de Kooning dating from the latter half of the 1940s. Suffering financially during this period, de Kooning turned to household enamels in black and white with which to execute his paintings. He completed a series of works that were essentially either black on white ground, or white on black ground exploring the automatic drift of his hand across the canvas. These dynamic paintings and particularly Attic (1949) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York are closely comparable to Moshiri's numerological canvases.
To the middle eastern eye the canvas clearly draws on the traditions of magic and numerology that are alive and well in many provincial pockets of the region, and which was certainly a thriving custom until the late nineteenth century. The recognition of magical forces in Islamic culture manifested itself in many ways, from magic bowls inscribed with numerals and symbols that would cure the patient if he drank from it, to talismanic shirts worn beneath armour that protected the soldier in battle.
For centuries mystic thinkers of the Islamic world pondered the hidden significance of letters, giving them not only a phonetic value but also an arithmetic one. These arithmetic values gave much room for interpretation, for predicting the future, for finding divinity in the written word and for many other purposes. The abjad system was a codification of the Arabic alphabet that applied numerical values to each letter and was used on scientific instruments, and for talismanic codes and magical operations.
In this canvas, Moshiri cleverly combines the modern fundamentally western aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism with an essentially Islamic concept of numerology, and the final result is both a subtle commentary and an elegant work of art.
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