Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

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Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian
Monir Portrait-exh ph021.jpg
Native name منیر شاهرودی فرمانفرمائیان
Born Monir Shahroudy
1924 (age 92–93)
Qazvin, Iran
Nationality Iranian
Education University of Tehran, Parsons The New School for Design, Cornell University, Art Students League
Style Traditional Persian mosaic work related to contemporary abstraction
Movement geometric minimalism, Saqqakhaneh movement

Manoucher Yektai (1950-1953)

Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian (1957-1991)
Awards Venice Biennale,1958, Iranian Pavilion (gold medal) (solo)

Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (Persian: منیر شاهرودی فرمانفرمائیان‎‎; born 1924) is an Iranian artist who lives in Tehran, and a collector of traditional folk art.[1] She has been noted as one of the most prominent Iranian artists of the contemporary period,[2] and she is the first artist to achieve an artistic practice that weds the geometric patterns and cut-glass mosaic techniques of her Iranian heritage with the rhythms of modern Western geometric abstraction.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Born to educated parents in the religious town of Qazvin in north-western Iran, Farmanfarmaian acquired artistic skills early in childhood, receiving drawing lessons from a tutor and studying postcard depictions of western art.[4] After studying at the University of Tehran at the Faculty of Fine Art in 1944, she then moved to New York via steamer boat, when World War II derailed plans to study art in Paris, France.[5] In New York, she studied at Cornell University, at Parsons The New School for Design,[6] where she majored in fashion illustration, and at the Art Students League.[4]


As a fashion illustrator, she held various freelance jobs, working with magazines such as Glamour before being hired by the Bonwit Teller department store, where she made the acquaintance of a young Andy Warhol.[4] Additionally, she learned more about art through her trips to museums and through her exposure to the Eighth Street Club and New York's avant-garde art scene, becoming friends with artists and contemporaries Louise Nevelson, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Joan Mitchell.[4]

First return to Iran[edit]

In early 1957, Farmanfarmaian moved back to Iran. Inspired by the residing culture, she discovered “a fascination with tribal and folk artistic tradition” of her country’s history, which “led her to rethink the past and conceive a new path for her art.”[4] In the following years, she would further develop her Persian inspiration by crafting mirror mosaics and abstract monotypes, featuring her work at the Iran Pavilion in the 1958 Venice Biennale,[7] and holding a number of exhibitions in places such as Tehran University (1963), the Iran-America Society (1973), and the Jacques Kaplan/Mario Ravagnan Gallery (1974).[4]

Exile and return to Iran[edit]

In 1979, Farmanfarmaian and her second husband, Abolbashar, traveled to New York to visit family.[4] Around the same time, the Islamic Revolution began, and so the Farmanfarmaians found themselves exiled from Iran, an exile that would last for over twenty years.[4] Farmanfarmaian attempted to reconcile her mirror mosaics with the limited resources offered in America, but such lacking materials and comparatively inexperienced workers restricted her work.[4] In the meantime, she placed larger emphasis on her other aspects of art, such as commissions, textile designs, and drawing.[8]

Third return to Iran[edit]

In 1992, Farmanfarmaian returned to Iran and later, in Tehran in 2004, she reaffirmed her place among Iran’s art community, gathering both former and new employees to help create her mosaics.[4] As of 2014, she continues to live and work in Tehran.[9]


Aside from her mirror work, Farmanfarmaian is additionally known for her paintings, drawings, textile designs, and monotypes.[8]

Mirror Mosaics[edit]

Around the 1970s, Farmanfarmaian visited the Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran.[10] With the shrine’s “high-domed hall… covered in tiny square, triangular, and hexagonal mirrors,”[10] similar to many other ancient Iranian mosques,[2] this event acted as a turning point in Farmanfarmaian’s artistic journey, leading to her interest in mirror mosaic artwork. According to her memoir, Farmanfarmaian has described the experience as transformative:

“The very space seemed on fire, the lamps blazing in hundreds of thousands of reflection... 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.”[10]

Aided by Iranian craftsman, Hajji Ostad Mohammad Navid, she created a number of mosaics and exhibition pieces by cutting mirrors and glass paintings into a multitude of shapes, which she would later reform into constructions that evoked aspects of Sufism and Islamic culture.[4] “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.[11] By striving to mix Iranian influences and the tradition of mirror artwork with artistic practices outside of strictly Iranian culture, “offering a new way of looking at ancient aesthetic elements of this land using tools that are not limited to a particular geography,” Farmanfarmaian is able to express a cyclical conception of spirituality, space, and balance in her mosaics.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Farmanfarmaian married Iranian artist Manoucher Yektai in 1950.[4] They divorced in 1953, and in 1957, she returned to Tehran to marry lawyer Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian.[4] In 1991, Abolbashar died of leukemia.[12] She has two daughters, Nima and Zahra.[4] While living in Iran, Farmanfarmaian was also 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.[13] The vast majority of her works and her collections of folk art were confiscated, sold or destroyed.


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;[14] Haus der Kunst, Munich; The Third Line, Dubai;[15] 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 Triennial of Contemporary Art (2009); and the Venice Biennale (1958, 1966 and 2009).[16] In 1958 she received the Venice Biennale, Iranian Pavilion (gold medal) (solo).[15]

Suzanne Cotter curated Farmanfarmaian's work for her first large museum retrospective titled 'Infinite Possibility: Mirror Works and Drawings' which was on display at the Serralves Museum (also known as Fundação de Serralves) in Porto, Portugal (2014-2015)[9] and then the exhibition travelled to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City (2015).[17] This was her first large US museum exhibition.[17]

Commissioned installations[edit]

Major commissioned installations include work for the Queensland Art Gallery (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,[18] The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

Farmanfarmaian was named as one of the BBC's "100 Women" of 2015.[19]


Farmanfarmaian's memoir is titled A Mirror Garden: A Memoir was co-authored by Zara Houshmand (Knopf, 2007).[20] Her work is documented in the book, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry (Damiani Editore & The Third Line, 2011), which features in-depth interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and 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. She is referenced in 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.[21]


The film Monir (2014) directed by Bahman Kiarostami, is a documentary about Farmanfarmaian's life and work.[12][22]


  1. ^ Barnett, Laura. "Monir Farmanfarmaian: 'In Iran, life models wear pants'". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  2. ^ a b Barnett, Laura (13 July 2011). "Gale Business Insights: Essentials". Guardian. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  3. ^ "Recollections: Monir Farmanfarmaian. Nafas Art Magazine". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Stein, Donna (2012). "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Empowered by American Art: An Artist’s Journey.". Woman's Art Journal. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  5. ^ Bortolotti, Maurizio (2013). "Flash Art". Flash Art. Flash Art International. Retrieved 15 October 2015. 
  6. ^ "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian Biography – Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian on artnet". Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  7. ^ "Cosmic Geometry: The Life and Work of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian". Vogue. Retrieved 2015-10-29. 
  8. ^ a b "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  9. ^ a b "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings 1974-2014, From Oct 2014 to Jan 2015". Serralves. 2014. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  10. ^ a b c Budick, Ariella (10 April 2015). "Where prayer hall meets disco ball.". Financial Times. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  11. ^ "Mosaic Art NOW: Someone You Should Know: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian". Mosaic Art NOW. Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  12. ^ a b Kennedy, Randy (2015-03-20). "Monir Farmanfarmaian, Iranian and Nonagenarian, Celebrates a New York Museum First". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  13. ^ "THE IRANIAN: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Fathali Ghahremani". Retrieved 2015-11-30. 
  14. ^ Cestar, Juliet (June 2008). "Recollections: Monir Farmanfarmaian". Nafas. Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations and Universes in Universe. Retrieved December 28, 2014. 
  15. ^ a b "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian (Iranian, born 1924)". ArtNet. Artnet Worldwide Corporation. Retrieved December 28, 2014. 
  16. ^ a b "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian". Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA). Retrieved December 28, 2014. 
  17. ^ a b "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Infinite Possibility. Mirror Works and Drawings". 2015-03-01. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 
  18. ^ "Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian Interview Part 1 from ArtAsiaPacific magazine". Vimeo. ArtAsiaPacific magazine. 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2014. 
  19. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2015: Iranian artist Monir Farmanfarmaian". BBC. 26 November 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  20. ^ Farmanfarmaian, Monir; Houshmand, Zara (June 12, 2007). A Mirror Garden: A Memoir. Knopf. ISBN 0307266133. 
  21. ^ Ardalan, Nadar (October 31, 2011). Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian: Cosmic Geometry. Damiani. ISBN 8862081758. 
  22. ^ "DOCUNIGHT #15: Monir". The Roxie. Retrieved 2015-05-29. 

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