The work of Hadieh Shafie is bold, commanding, playful and full of secrets. Paper is her medium, gesture her tool, colour her muse and eshgh—the Persian word for romantic love—her subversive, hidden content. Her influences include the sixteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi, the effects of the 1979 Iranian revolution (particularly the suppression of reading material), high-modernist American colour field painting and the mobile body of performance art, which she explored as a graduate student after earning a degree in fine art at New York’s Pratt Institute.
In Dipped in Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green, the colours are modified to precision. In other words, the title specifies the exact chemical and mineral compound that the scrolls were dipped in: ultramarine and phthalo. Yet this is a ruse, because deep inside inscribed in Shafie’s handwriting within the spools, is the word eshgh, repeated again and again on each strip like a trauma. The artist works with commercially cut white paper whose edges she paints by hand; each page measures one by eleven inches. She then glues these pages, which are joined into spools, to a flat surface and assembles them like a jigsaw puzzle, holding them together with pH-neutral bookbinding glue. Shafie contains her works within frames of varying design, in this case rectangle. While such a shape recalls psychedelic, post minimal op art, the bands of colour, which are arranged by size and complexly combined, spread out into meticulous circles that mesmerise and feed the eye with the brilliance of ritual patterns.
Dipped in Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green is hardly a work of Greenbergian high modernism—although it grabs from that tradition and vocabulary—but rather an ingenious piece of visual art that reinvents and alludes to a library, bookcase, or magical storehouse of sacred ancient texts while invoking the rich history of romantic love in Persian culture and the repressive climate of revolutionary Tehran. An homage to Shafie’s love of colour field painting and the pure pleasure of form, Dipped in Ultramarine Blue,
Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green defies genre; it is and is not a painting. It is a love story both physically present and impossible to comprehend.
Hadieh Shafie’s works have been included in exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad, including the Jameel Prize traveling exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, the Cantor Centre for Visual Arts at Stanford University and the San Antonio Museum of Art. Her work is in numerous public collections worldwide such as the Metropolitan Museum, NY; the Brooklyn Museum, NY; the British Museum, London; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art(LACMA) and the Salsali Private Museum, Dubai.
(Text by Thyrza Nichols Goodeve)