Capturing the Breath

Iranian visual artist Shirazeh Hoshiary’s first show in India resonates with themes of universality.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: February 28, 2013 9:39 pm

Iranian visual artist Shirazeh Hoshiary’s first show in India resonates with themes of universality.

After graduating from the Chelsea School of Art,London alongside a generation of artists such as Anish Kapoor and Richard Deacon,Iranian artist Shirazeh Hoshiary started out as a sculptor. Over the years,as her artistic concerns deepened,the need for a multifaceted visual language pushed her to other art forms,such as painting and animation. The thematic commonality in her work has been exploring universality amid the unlikeliest,and the uncanny desire to capture the intangible,which drove her artistry beyond the full-bodied three dimensions of sculptures,to the canvas and scope of paintings and films. In her show,on till March 23,at Mumbai’s Jhaveri Contemporary,which is also her first in India,Hoshiary works in a similar format through a video and a suite of paintings. “I like to make a film when I want something more ethereal to be captured. Also each form can heighten a certain facet of the theme,” she says.

The different disciplines are not isolated from one another,but are intended to converse among themselves,to create the larger picture. In this show titled “Breath”,Hoshiary tries to give form to the elusive act of human breath,its intangible essence and its duality. This makes the work understandably abstract,especially in the suite of paintings titled “Presence”. But she gives it a context in her film,a four-walled video installation custom-fit into the gallery’s specially-carved-out space for the show. “Breath” choreographs the evocative chants of Islam,Buddhist,Christian and Jewish prayers to the transcendental beauty of the act of breathing,visually represented in its act of expansion and contraction. It evokes the calm peacefulness of a dark prayer room as the voices join in accordance within the four walls of religions. “It’s not easy to give form to breath. But I chose to do it through the act of prayer as it uses breath so deeply. There is a difference in the way each of these cultures make use of breath inspite of the fundamental universality,and there is a beauty in that,” she says.

Asked about artists she has been inspired by,Hoshiary doesn’t name one. Like her work,her influences are more from the timeless and the ancient artistic traditions,such as Persian poetry and Chinese paintings. She inscribes layers of Arabic text and takes it beyond comprehension. They celebrate the energy that flows from the words rather than their meanings. This is a recurring theme in many of her works. “I feel words stop you from experiencing,for me they have always been more about the pulse and energy than their meaning and form,” says the 58-year-old artist,who had left Iran for London in 1973 to pursue education in art.

Hoshiary is noted for her public art installations across the world where her work surrender to unpredictable,exciting contexts. Many of her work are situated in public spaces that become interesting intersection points for people,in religious spaces,for instance. She attaches importance to the immediate surrounding of her work,that is necessary even when she is working inside the spaces of a gallery. Jhaveri Contemporary,for example,had to make alterations in its regular settings to add to the mood of her work. “The site is important for me,and I need a certain amount of serenity and calmness,” she says.

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