A time for textiles to shine

Firouz Farman-Farmaian talks to Artscoops about his latest collaborative project with Qashqai Iranian rug crafters, which marks a full circle moment on what has been an epic geographical and professional journey. 

Portrait of Firouz Farmaian by Antalya Von Preussen

Since a sense of nomadism has long sat at the heart of the life and work of the Iranian-born artist Firouz Farman-Farmaian, it is perhaps entirely apt that rather than catching a breath after time spent in far-flung corners of the world, he is instead embarking on his next exciting artistic adventure.

New phases and challenges certainly don’t faze Farmaian – a multi-disciplinary artist, who fled Iran during the Islamic Revolution, together with his family, and settled in Paris, where he studied Architecture and the Visual Arts.

Over the years, he has worked across and experimented with an extensive range of media spanning painting, print, sculpture, film and music. However, what makes this pivotal point particularly significant is that it represents a ‘full circle’ moment that will see him team up with craftspeople from his native Iran.

“This was something I’d wanted to do for a very long time, but proved difficult to achieve, which was frustrating,” he admitted. “Knowing it’s happening now, at last, is really exciting and satisfying.”
In this new, landmark partnership, Farmaian will be developing the rug art that has become a focal point of his work in recent years, following time spent among artisans in remote communities across North Africa and Central Asia, observing and learning their crafting techniques.

Nomads of Persia

“As an artist, I’ve always been curious and keen to continue discovering new skills and disciplines,” he explained. “The time felt right to seek out something different to adopt or introduce into my work.”

This mission led to Farmaian befriending Amazigh communities in Morocco and others who call rural villages in Kyrgysztan home, all of whom were delighted to share their fabrication practices and processes with him.

Back in his studio, Farmaian began to think about how he could utilise some of the techniques that he’d been learned in the next chapter of his creative story. “I needed to reflect on and rationalise everything I’d experienced,” he said. “Luckily the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns provided the ideal time and setting to do this. I was able, over time, to put down the blueprint for what I could see emerging - a new, post-tribal approach, combining textiles with freeform visual explorations on canvas.”

Bit by bit, Farmaian painstakingly created a highly detailed process, using ink, acrylic markers and oil sticks, together with specialist calligraphy equipment, to bring his designs to life on high quality paper, before implementing the textile process. A hallmark vibrant colour palette is achieved using the 80%-natural dyes he favours for ethical reasons. “This was an entirely new way of working for me, so there were challenges, but it also felt good to be experimenting in a new field,” he explained.

Banners of the Unbanished Public Progamme 2020, Theatre Royal de Marrakech

In a landmark launch, Farmaian displayed the results of this new way of working at a high-profile exhibition at the Théâtre Royal de Marrakech in Morocco, which formed part of a programme for the city’s 2020 art fair. Titled ‘Banners of Unbanished’, the project featured a collection of fictitious tribal banners in gloriously majestic vibrant colours, displayed in a sacred Sufi circular format to relay unity and harmony.

An invitation to represent Kyrgysztan at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2021 took Farmaian further along the fabrication route he’d begun exploring. The resulting ‘Gates of Turan’ exhibition quickly became a talking point among visitors to the biennale, with audiences remarking on the new direction evident in Farmaian’s art. “In fact, the press at the biennale started tagging me as a textile artist, which was OK, although I always clarify that I’m not a rug designer,” he said, laughing.

A firm believer in happenstance and allowing things to develop organically, Farmaian decided that it felt right to remain in Venice as the biennale drew to a close and delve deeper into the field of textiles, creating an expansive and diverse range of signed rug art in various shapes and sizes, displayed at Lo Studio Everything I Want gallery.

“I’d begun to recognise that the entire discipline resonated with me on all kinds of levels; I was discovering more about my heritage and, importantly, felt an affinity with the craftspeople who’d not only shared their skills with me, but were also rooted in a nomadic history,” he said. “All of these sentiments encouraged me to come up with a workable plan for developing new ideas in my studio and teaming up for collaborations - to really make 2024 a year for collabs.”

Gates of Turan 59th Biennale Di Venezia, photo We R the Nomads Agency

Several fruitful partnerships have followed, including the launch of an art platform - The Art Ryad Essaouira - undertaken with Camilla Farman Farmaian’s Juncture Gallery and the architect Alaric Campbell Garrat (Assorted Studio), and standout galleries spanning Athens, Venice, Dubai and the south of France.

Serendipity struck again at a pop-up show in South Kensington, London, where a chance encounter with members of the Ramezani family, importers to the UK of Persian rugs, paved the way for Farmaian to embark on his latest venture and finally achieve his long-held ambition of teaming up with Iranian textile artisans. “Meeting the Ramezanis was a fantastic stroke of luck as I knew they’d be able to provide a platform for me to finally fulfil my dream of working with Qashqai Iranian rug crafters,” he explained.

With the partnership now up and running, under the Rugs of London parent company, Farmaian is fully immersed in producing his next textile installation, which will be titled ‘Nomads of Persia’ and is set to be shown on the occasion of Frieze London later this year.

Other initiatives in the pipeline include a forthcoming UAE collaboration involving mixed reality technology with Dubai-based Espace Gallery, ongoing ventures in Venice and Marrakech and, significantly, a new partnership with Artscoops, which is giving him a welcome additional platform for the Middle East.

Farmaian admits to gaining satisfaction from the fact that this new ‘post-tribal’ artistic phase has taken him across continents and introduced him to new cultures and communities. “As an Iranian exile, any aspects of life that reference a Nomadic existence resonate with me,” he said. “My situation has also led to me being a great champion of a borderless planet, a post-colonial scenario where cultures interact and coexist. I call it a reshuffling of the cards and yes, it’s disruptive but healthy and absolutely necessary.”

Talisman Tattoo One (Contemporary Nomads Collection) 2023, (300X200cm) Limited Edition (3 of 5)

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