Farhad Moshiri's Flying Carpet is at once provocative, humorous and ambiguous in message. Its monumental size and its fusion of the lyrical with the sardonic make this one of his most impressive works. The stack of thirty-two carpets, each apparently mechanically mutilated and bearing a hole the shape of a generic fighter jet, with a corresponding stack of fighter-jet shaped carpet off-cuts, sends a barrage of contrasting signals. The juxtaposition of domestic soft furnishings with an image of military hardware is suggestive either of foreign interference bringing hardship into the home or else is emblematic of the determination and defiance of the Iranian state in the face of aggressors.
In the face of stiff competition from princes, princesses, thieves and genies, the image of the flying carpet is still the most enduring of all of those to emerge from the Tales Of The Thousand And One Nights. Strictly speaking it appeared in just one tale, the Three Brothers, where it was flown by Prince Housain, eldest son of the Indian Sultan. In the tale Prince Housain travelled to Bisnagar (Vijayanagar) in India, from where he acquired this magical teleporting tapestry.
The tales had their origins in India and Persia and were translated into Arabic in tenth century Baghdad, from where they reached throughout the Arab world. Rich in anecdotal detail and blending lyricism with bawdy humour, the magical with the mundane, the Thousand and One Nights were the popular counterpoint to the highbrow Persian and Arabic literature of the medieval Middle East. Translated into English by Sir Richard Burton in the nineteenth century, the Nights found a global audience. Their fame became such that their heady mix of exoticism and mystery rightly or wrongly- came to represent an image of the Middle East as a whole, becoming -and flying carpets with them- universal cultural icons.
Referencing universal icons is a key characteristic of Pop Art- symbols of popular culture transferred into fine art. Farhad Moshiri's attraction to Pop Art is well-documented, but in few of his works is the relationship quite as close as in Flying Carpet. Moshiri's choice of subject, medium and method of execution reference several high priests of American Pop.
Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! (1963) featuring two fighter jets in mortal combat is one of his seminal works. Farhad Moshiri's fighter jet is reminiscent of Lichtenstein's, where the jet is obviously an instrument of death but also the object of cartoonish male puerile fantasy. That image was taken from a 1962 DC comic entitled All American Men of War, and the sense of detachment and ambiguity which Lichtenstein brings to what should be a highly emotional scene is mirrored in Moshiri's work.
Persian carpets, iconic and emblematic of Iran, are a strong part of the Persian identity. Iran is justly proud of the skill of her carpet weavers and their inventive designs. The Persian carpet as a worldwide export is of immense cultural and economic importance, and along with visual art and literature, is one of the few products to be exempt from various international embargoes. Moshiri uses the motif of the carpet as visual shorthand for Iran and Persian culture in a way strongly reminiscent of Jasper Johns' use of the Stars and Stripes as representative of America.
The Persian carpet carries with it the connotations of the unique and the handmade. By stacking thirty-two carpets of the same size- each of them factory produced- and cutting identical holes into each of, them the shape of which represents a hi-tech product of symbol of modern warfare, Moshiri subverts the expectations of the carpet as an individually crafted rather than a mass-produced artifact. The repetition and stacking of this visible symbol recalls Andy Warhol's well-known depictions of Campbell's Soup Cans or Brillo Boxes, whilst in its precision and fetishistic celebration of the material it recalls Minimalist art, notably that of Donald Judd.