Born in Qazvin, Iran in 1922, Monir’s distinguished career spanned more than six decades. Incorporating traditional reverse glass painting, mirror mosaics and principles of Islamic geometry with a modern sensibility, her sculptures and installations defy easy categorization. Monir died peacefully at her home in Tehran on April 20, 2019.
Monir’s mirror and reverse glass painting mosaic sculptures are built around principles of Islamic geometry. Through wall based panels and free standing works, she presents both a detailed craft and contemporary abstraction that employs an interaction of surface texture, light and reflection, color and form.
"Around 1971, I went to a certain shrine [in Iran],…and I became very awed with the way the mirror pieces were reflecting back images of the people there – the beggars, the holy men. It was so beautiful, so magnificent. I was crying like a baby." (Monir Farmanfarmaian in conversation with Laura Barnett in: In Iran, life models wear pants, The Guardian, 2011).
Monir's inspiration began with a visit to the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran and the shrine’s “high-domed hall… covered in tiny square, triangular, and hexagonal mirrors,” similar to the decorated interiors of Iranian shrines and palaces dating back to the 16th century. (Ariella Budick, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility, Where prayer hall meets disco ball, The Financial Times, 2015).
“For me inspiration always comes from Iran, from my history, from my childhood, for better or for worse. I always go with the feeling of my eyes, and with my heart, and that is my main inspiration.” (Monir Farmanfarmaian cited in: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Damiani Editore and The Third Line, 2011, p.22).
Guided by the Iranian craftsman, Hajji Ostad Mohammad Navid, Monir produced many mosaics by cutting mirrors and glass into a variety of shapes. These were then arranged into compositions that recall elements of Sufism and Islamic art. Farmanfarmaian was notably the first contemporary artist to reinvent the Persian craft of Ayeneh Kari, the art of cutting mirrors into small pieces and placing them in decorative shapes over plaster, a technique traditionally passed on from father to son. (Sotheby's Catalogue, April, 2017).
Monir was the first Iranian artist to have a solo exhibit at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her pieces have also been acquired by the most prominent museums in the world, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Tate Modern, The Victoria and Albert Museum and Queensland Gallery of Contemporary Art.
The Monir Museum, under the auspices of Tehran University, opened in 2018. This is the first solo artist museum in Iran.
“If you divide a circle at three points,
it will be a triangle.
In Islamic design the triangle is the intelligent human being...that involves three points, three lines and infinite possibilities for combination…More concerned with the impact of geometry on the eye and the body than on the mind and the soul...the triangle is a quotation of the human body in first and a symbol second, and a distant second at that."
- Monir Farmanfarmaian cited in: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Damiani Editore and The Third Line, 2011, p.22.
"Monir Farmanfarmaian, Iranian and Nonagenarian, Celebrates a New York Museum First." The New York Times, March 20, 2015.