Renowned to be one of the most emblematic figures of Modern and Contemporary Iranian art, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian truly depicts her own personality in her oeuvre. Born in Qazvin in 1924, the artist studied art at the University of Tehran at the Faculty of Fine Arts in 1944 and later, left for New York rather than France due to the outbreak of WWII. Curious and passionate, she familiarised herself with art by visiting museums and joined the avant-garde art scene in New York where she befriended the pioneers of American Abstract Expressionism Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Willem de Kooning (1904-1997). However, Iran’s ancient and modern architecture remained her main source of inspiration to create her ground-breaking compositions.
Developed during the Qajar dynasty time, from 1785 to 1925, the reverse painting on glass consists in applying paint on glass which is turned over in order to perceive the image through the glass. This technique is historically reserved for important constructions in Iran such as palaces, aristocrats’ houses or holy shrines and then, it began appearing in some private places including chai khane – tea houses. Thus, Farmanfarmaian explored geometric laws and used the several properties of the mirror to produce this exceptional work titled Heartbeat and dated 2006. This unique composition is exhibited as a painting and stands out from her other reverse mirror pieces which preserve a traditional presentation, because of the four red lines that go horizontally from an extremity to the other. The artist here demonstrates her knowledge about the ancient technique and her mastery of mathematical proportions. This work recalls the electrocardiogram which is used to measure and transcribe the heartbeats onto a screen: the painted lines frame the shapes of the mirror and thus creates a sort of repeated movement of waves. In that way, the idea of longevity or eternity is suggested in this dynamic representation by the absence of both a beginning and an end.
Gazing at the work, the viewer sees his own refection which amplifies the emotive power of the artist’s work. By including the spectator in her work, Farmanfarmaian investigates human beings as well as life itself and draws a correlation between the being and Sufi symbolism - a mystic and ascetic trend from Islam’s Golden Age originally dating from the 9th and 10th centuries. Heartbeat materialises a deep philosophy where Minimalism’s spare lines embody the vital energy whilst the mirror, reflecting the self, is commonly associated with purity and veracity. Although she lived in many places, ‘Ostad Monir’ - Monir master - has never forgotten her Iranian heritage and she celebrates it with a certain talent. Through her precious mirror compositions, she perpetuates the Iranian savoir-faire in an innovative way for the first time since 1558, when the first use of mirror decoration was used in Iran in the Safavid Shah Tahmasp I’s palace in Qazvin, Monir Farmanfarmaian’s hometown.