Every night in Tehran, Golnaz Fathi would adjust her TV set and tune in to the international news via satellite. Her sensitivities were overloaded with stories of conflict, struggle and, ultimately, death. It was inevitable, the artist explains, that this would spill over into her work. "My reaction is emotional," she says. "As long as we solve our problems through killing, then we are not civilised yet."
Fathi, who is represented by The Third Line in Dubai, returned to the UAE this month with her fifth show, Falling Leaves. It is a departure from her usual calligraphic style and comprises mixed media canvas works of detailed illustrations from an ancient Persian lithograph overlaid with vibrant paints.
History repeats itself
Look closely at the body of work and you will see intricate drawings taken from the 11th-century poem Shahnameh that the artist received as an illustrated book two years ago.
"This is the first time I have used figurative painting in my work," she says. "But I was inspired by the conflict in the poem. Every night I was hearing about killing on the news and looking at these images I felt that, even though they were telling the story of a Persian royal battle from centuries ago, they were still relevant today."
The ancient and modern conflicts are conveyed in Fathi's work through brightly coloured paints. "I always paint to music so many of the gestures and colours used are improvised according to how I feel. There is no specific reason or story to the colours I chose. I just followed what my instinct told me."
Above the main gallery space in Third Line is the Project Space, an intimate area with a low ceiling ideal for showing Sahand Hesamiyan's Sulook, a geometric sculpture made of iron sheets resembling a dome common in Persian architecture and particularly used for tombs.
A nod to Sufism
The combination of the mystical and the mathematical in Islamic architecture inspires Hesamiyan.
"Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam and by its definition it goes from simplicity and complexity in everything it embodies. This is what I was trying to capture in my work," says Hesamiyan, a Tehran-based sculptor who is exhibiting for the first time in the UAE.
The name of the piece is derived from an Arabic term that alludes to a spiritual pathway towards God. The many layers of this ladder-like sculpture represent that, Hesamiyan says. "Within mysticism, to reach the higher levels and to reach God, you have to pass through many challenges. You have to strive and you have to progress. This is all part of the journey."
With UV lights, black walls and enchanting music, the piece gives viewers an insight into both the potential for personal development and, of course, artistic expression.
Falling Leaves and Sulook will show until March 7 at The Third Line in Al Quoz, Dubai