Few artists conquer the art world in their eighties. Fewer still stage their first solo exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in their nineties. Unless, of course, you’re 92-year-old Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, one of Iran’s most celebrated artists.
Indeed, the art world has long been acquainted with Monir’s work – her mirror spheres, of which Andy Warhol was a fan, and her iconic mirrored artworks, which have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale among other places, are some of the most inspired and impressive pieces to ever have been created from such a humble object. Yet, it wasn’t until Qazvin-born Monir returned to her native Iran in 2004 – after a 26-year exile in New York following the Islamic Revolution in 1979 – that her work was given the attention it was long due in the US and around the world.
New York is neither new, nor alien to Monir, who spent formative years in the Big Apple between 1945 and 1957, during which time she studied at Parsons School of Design, worked as a fashion illustrator and oft rubbed shoulders with Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock et al. Monir’s moment, however, came in 2015.
Then in her nineties and living back in Iran, the artist’s first solo exhibition opened at the Guggenheim. Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings was not only a showcase of the artist’s work, but it was a celebration of how Monir has punched up through a patchwork of male artists to win widespread recognition, as well as her ability to interlace Iranian heritage with minimalistic geometrical patterns.
“For me Monir is the epitome of a strong woman,” says Iranian-born handbag designer Amanda Navaian, whose latest collection is inspired by Monir’s mirrored artworks. “There is such a focus on what we do with our lives between the age of 20 to 30 that thereafter most people feel it’s too late to do something or pursue their dreams. Monir is a great example of why it is never too late.”
Amanda Navai's 'Mini Ramona' bag, Dhs4,950, available at Harvey Nichols - Dubai, Bloomingdale's Dubai and Tryano.
Triangle (Maze), 2014, by Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian at The Third Line
Awestruck by Monir’s story as much as she is her geometric patterns and mirrors, it took eight months for Amanda to get her tribute bag collection right. “There are so many intricate details in Monir’s work that every time I look at her handicraft, you see new details,” explains the Dubai-based designer. “We had to redo the styles many more times than usual.”
The use of mirrors in Amanda’s work was something completely new for her and her manufacturer. Never had they incorporated mirrors into bags or mixed so many different materials together. “In the style called ‘Sunny’ (after the founder of Dubai’s Third Line gallery) we incorporated mirrors, silver, gold and copper coloured brass, two different colours of enamel and three different colours of exotic leather,” she explains. “The bag based on Monir’s work – which I have called ‘Monir’ – is my favourite. I made sure to incorporate materials she usually works with – mirrors, brass and wood. Then of course I had to add some of my signature exotic leather into the mix.”
Monir’s impact – and dedication to her craft – continues to resonate around the world, including here in the UAE. In January this year, The Third Line gallery selected the Iranian artist as the subject of the inaugural exhibition at the opening of its new space in Alserkal Avenue. It was there that Amanda finally met her creative inspiration.
“I just felt a connection to Monir. She completely inspired me in so many ways – somehow she made so many things make sense to me.”
Most importantly, though, Amanda says that the artist instilled hope in her; hope that anything is possible – irrespective of age. - Tracey Scott