x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Pulling the wool

The Iranian artist Morteza Zahedi’s colourful and cartoon-like work avoids his national traditions, as can be seen in a solo show at the refurbished XVA Gallery in Dubai’s Al Fahidi, writes Anna Seaman.

Untitled from Morteza Zahedi’s Thundering Horses series. Courtesy XVA Gallery
Untitled from Morteza Zahedi’s Thundering Horses series. Courtesy XVA Gallery

When Morteza Zahedi and his wife needed a new carpet for their small apartment in Tehran, they couldn’t find anything that they liked to fit the space and to go with the plethora of images that populate their home. So, in true artistic spirit, Zahedi set about making his own.

An illustrator, graphic designer and artist, Zahedi chose an image for the carpet from his Thundering Horses collection, a series of pen-on-paper drawings that he created in an almost childish, pink notebook that he still carries around with him today. And it’s this combination of play, innovation and experimentation that defines Zahedi as an artist.

His solo show Tickle features the carpet that never made it to the floor of his apartment, instead becoming part of a series that Zahedi simply called the Carpet series. Zahedi enjoyed working with the material so much that it inspired a whole new outlet for him in the form of woollen sculptures.

Both the sculptures and the carpets form the majority of the exhibition in XVA’s newly upgraded space in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.

Situated next to Dubai Creek and amid the winding alleys of recreated wind towers, Al Fahidi is an unusual combination of something modern that at the same time captures the essence of tradition.

Coincidentally, this is something that can be found within Zahedi’s art. He draws cartoon-like characters, animals and humans, and in the past has worked extensively with children’s toys in all their different shades of plastic. He also consciously avoids drawing from any Iranian tradition. However, the pen-on-paper drawings of deconstructed horses that line the XVA Gallery and that come alive in the carpets have elements of calligraphy and Islamic patterns.

“I have always been drawn to children’s paintings and primitive artists. I was never attracted to traditional Iranian art such as miniature and calligraphy, but people tell me now they can find roots of them in my drawings,” he says. “I don’t know why, I never tried to do this. My feeling is near to modernist art, not traditional.”

But the elongated legs and the zigzag pattern of the horses that move rhythmically across the page or the carpet certainly do evoke a calligraphic influence.

“I can’t tell you where my inspiration comes from,” Zahedi muses when pressed. “I am not an engineer, I can’t explain these things. It comes like a bang.”

So the strange-looking, potato-shaped woollen sculptures that stand in the gallery space are literally the recreations of Zahedi’s imagination. They bear no titles and he offers very little explanation because he doesn’t like to attach meaning, preferring instead to listen to other’s stories about them.

“If you ask me why I do what I do, I will tell you I am doing it to be honest with my feelings. I want the audience too to be honest with their reactions.”

aseaman@thenational.ae

• Tickle by Morteza Zahedi runs from today to December 7 at XVA Gallery. Call 04 353 5383 for information