Paradise Lost, Memories Found

Paradise Lost, Memories Found


The Iranian artist Firouz FarmanFarmaian tackles the sensitive themes of exile and identity in a collection of works currently on show at the Shirin Gallery, New York, while also embarking on a journey of self-discovery



While many of us have stumbled upon long-forgotten family photos of past summers, a chance discovery by the Iranian artist Firouz FarmanFarmaian and his cousins of a super-8mm film reel some years back did much more than simply reignite a few distant memories.


Dating back to 1978, the hour-long film in question shows Firouz’s relatives enjoying a traditional summer at one of their properties on the Caspian Sea. However, what the footage doesn’t capture is that shortly afterwards, the revolution forced the family out of Iran and into exile.




Firouz, who was aged four at the time and has never returned to his homeland, decided to use the bittersweet contents of the film, together with other memorabilia, as the basis for an organic art project he has named Summer at the Caspian.


The ten artworks completed to date are currently on show at the Shirin Gallery, New York as part of an exhibition titled Memory & Future / Future & Memory. Curated by Janet Rady, the show, which also features the work of fellow Iranian artist Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar, runs until November 13th.


Firouz chose to adopt an ‘overpainting’ technique in his Summer at the Caspian series, extracting images of those carefree, pre-revolution days from the footage by digital means and then transferring them onto canvas, before superimposing brushwork. A cadastral map, which also survived the family’s exile, is layered separately into the pictures.


The project is, as Firouz puts it, a series of “personal mythologies”, combining “childhood imagination” with “archival reality”.


“What is explored here is a feeling of exile,” he explains. “The images that survived have melted with the memory of photographs and pre-revolution sagas I was fed as I grew up, thus creating a mass of semi-experienced and recreated memories.”




While the 1970s scenes have a nostalgic feel due to the hazy, grainy texture of the photos, an awareness of imminent events gives them an edge and what Firouz describes as a “Paradise Lost sentiment”.


The complex journey from film to canvas also reflects the long and winding road that the artist himself has travelled. Having initially moved from Iran to Spain, Firouz then relocated to France aged ten, where he was enrolled in boarding school.


While Firouz’s father introduced him to oil paint, his grandfather, the Iranian architect Abdol-Aziz Farman-Farmaian, was also a major influence, introducing him to architectonics, he says, which has translated into his work. Other elements, such as Persian lore and nature, are also in evidence.


Having lived in exile for three decades now, Firouz is keenly aware of what it means to be caught up in what he refers to as a “nomadic displacement of sorts”.

Yet art, he says, has always helped him face an ongoing sense of anxiety.


The news stories of ‘contemporary exiles’ fleeing atrocities chime, he says, with his family’s experiences. “It is very clear that I am not fleeing Aleppo in ruins. But some of my relatives had to flee Iran through Turkey on foot, while others have faced death row,” he notes.


Firouz hopes that the New York show will travel on to Los Angeles. Other ongoing projects include a forthcoming solo exhibit, titled Strata, at the Parisian-Iranian gallerist Golan Rouzkhosh’s new space in Hamburg. The collection of large format paintings, he explains, will showcase his progression towards an organic form of abstraction inspired by geological stratification.




While he hasn’t returned to his homeland, Firouz has retained links with Iran through his work. His Magic of Persia Foundation’s exhibit was shown at the Niavaran Cultural Center last winter, while talks are currently in progress about a Tehran solo show.


Firouz is optimistic for Iranian art and, perhaps, on a broader level. “I have come across a growing number of Iranian artists now based there and I can certainly say momentum is building,” he says. “The new generation seems to be more inclined to push the boundaries of their productions. The field is open to take on a much bigger arena of expression the way the Chinese did before us.”


Memory & Future/Future & Memory, featuring the work of Sassan Behnam Bakhtiar and Firouz FarmanFarmaian, runs until November 13th at the Shirin Gallery, New York

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