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Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian.

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (1922–2019)

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, whose lucent works ally modernist abstraction with Islamic ornament, has died at age ninety-seven. Renowned internationally for her dazzling, painstaking mirrorwork, in later life Farmanfarmaian rose to prominence as one of Iran’s foremost contemporary artists and as one of its most prolific collectors. The first artist to make secular cut-glass mosaics, Farmanfarmaian, whose career spanned six decades, was also celebrated for her paintings, drawings, textile designs, and monotypes.

Born in 1922 to Ottoman aristocrats in Qazvin, Iran, and taking up art early on, Farmanfarmaian studied at the University of Tehran before moving to New York in 1944 to further her education at Cornell University, the Art Students League, and Parsons School of Design, where she began studies in fashion design. In 1950, she married artist Manoucher Yektai, whom she divorced three years later. While in New York, Farmanfarmaian befriended artists including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, and Andy Warhol—a lifelong friend—before returning to Iran in 1957.

In Tehran, Farmanfarmaian grew inspired by traditional Persian craftsmanship, and after an epiphanic 1975 visit to the Shah Cheragh shrine, in Shiraz, she began to construct her trademark cut-mirror mosaics, which were informed by Ayeneh Kari, a religious tradition typically passed on from father to son. “The very space seemed on fire, the lamps blazing in hundreds of thousands of reflections,” Farmanfarmaian wrote of Shah Cheragh in her memoir, A Mirror Garden (2007). “I imagined myself standing inside a many-faceted diamond and looking out at the sun. It was a universe unto itself, architecture transformed into performance, all movement and fluid light, all solids fractured and dissolved in brilliance in space, in prayer. I was overwhelmed.” Exiled during the Iranian Revolution, she returned to the US in 1978 with her second husband, Abolbashar. (Most of her collection in Iran was destroyed or lost.) In New York, she made less art, uninspired by America and lacking the craftsmen and materials upon which her work relied.

Farmanfarmaian moved back to Tehran in 2004 to reopen her studio, ramping up her output in her eighties. In 2015, her oeuvre was the subject of a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, “Infinite Possibility,” her first solo museum exhibition in New York. In 2017, the Monir Museum was opened in Tehran in her honor, marking the country’s first museum devoted to a single female artist. Her work is held in various international institutions, including Tate Modern in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

“All my inspiration has come from Iran—it has always been my first love,” Farmanfarmaian told The Guardian in 2017. “When I travelled the deserts and the mountains, throughout my younger years, all that I saw and felt is now reflected in my art.”