Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

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Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian
Born 1924 (age 89–90)
Qazvin, Iran
Nationality Iran Iranian
Occupation Artist
Years active 1950–present

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (born 1924) is an Iranian artist and collector of folk art.[1] Her artistic practice weds the geometric patterns and cut-glass mosaic techniques of her Iranian heritage with the rhythms of modern Western geometric abstraction.[2]


Born to educated parents in the religious town of Qazvin in north-western Iran, Farmanfarmaian studied at the Faculty of Fine Art, Tehran (1944-1946), before traveling to the United States on a steamer boat when World War II derailed plans to study art in Paris, France. In New York she studied at Parsons School of Design and Cornell University, worked as a fashion illustrator, and was absorbed into the city's avant garde art scene, becoming friends with artists and contemporaries Louise Nevelson, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Joan Mitchell. She painted, collaborated with Andy Warhol on illustrations for the now defunct Bonwit Teller department store, and, under the tutelage of Milton Avery, developed her talent for making monotype prints — some of which were presented at the Iran Pavilion during the 1958 Venice Biennale.[3]

She returned to Iran in 1957 with her husband Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian and began experimenting with adapting and combining techniques of reverse-glass painting, mirror mosaics, and the Sufi symbolism of classical Islamic geometrical design with a modern abstract expressionism and minimalism. “Ayeneh Kari” is the traditional art of cutting mirrors into small pieces and slivers, placing them in decorative shapes over plaster. This form of Iranian reverse glass and mirror mosaics is a craft traditionally passed on from father to son. Farmanfarmaian, however, was the first contemporary artist to reinvent the traditional medium in a contemporary way.[4] She soon reached international acclaim and held major exhibitions in Tehran, Paris, Venice and New York.[5] While living in Iran, Farmanfarmaian was an avid collector. She sought out paintings behind glass, traditional tribal jewelry and potteries, and amassed one of the greatest collections of "coffee-house paintings" in the country—commissioned paintings by folk artists as coffee-house, story-telling murals.[6]

After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, during which time the vast majority of her works and her collections of folk art were confiscated, sold or destroyed, she took refuge in New York. Farmanfarmaian returned to Tehran in 2004, where she continues lives and works as of 2009.[7]


Farmanfarmaian's work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Grey Art Gallery, New York; Galerie Denise Rene, Paris and New York; Leighton House Museum, London;[8] Haus der Kunst, Munich; The Third Line, Dubai;[9] Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern; Lower Belvedere, Vienna; and Ota Fine Art, Tokyo. She participated in the 29th Bienal de São Paulo (2010); the 6th Asia Pacific Triennal of Contemporary Art (2009); and the Venice Biennale (1958, 1966 and 2009).[10]

Major commissioned installations include work for the Queensland Art Museum (2009), the Victoria & Albert Museum's Jameel Collection (2006), the Dag Hammerskjod building, New YOrk (1981) and the Niyavaran Cultural Center (1977–78), as well as acquisitions by the Metropolitan Museum of Art,[11] The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.


Farmanfarmaian's memoir A Mirror Garden: A Memoir was co-authored by Zara Houshmand (Knopf, 2007).[12] Her work is documented in Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry (Damiani Editore & The Third Line, 2011), which features in-depth interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist, critical essays by Nader Ardalan, Media Farzin and Eleanor Sims, tributes by Farmanfarmaian's friends Etel Adnan, Siah Armajani, caraballo-farman, Golnaz Fathi, Hadi Hazavei, Susan Hefuna, Aziz Isham, Rose Issa, Faryar Javaherian, Abbas Kiarostami, Shirin Neshat, Donna Stein and Frank Stella, an excerpt from The Sense of Unity: The Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture by Nader Ardalan and Laleh Bakhtiar (1973), and an annotated timeline of Farmanfarmaian's life by Negar Azimi.[13]