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Art Watch : Golnaz Fathi

Golnaz Fathi is our Art Watch Artist for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

Bold, unabashed and striking. These are the three words that come to mind when someone asks me to describe Golnaz Fathi’s works. Housed in Private and Public collections world-over. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to the Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi.

Fathi is a trained Islamic calligrapher. Having reached the highest level of achievement within the discipline, she decided to rebel against the patriarchal system reserved for men. And aimed at solely being a tool to worship the divine. Fathi changed course and has given us for almost two decades, brush strokes that call out to our soul.

Born in 1972 in Tehran, recognised for her reinterpretations of traditional Persian calligraphy, Golnaz Fathi is a contemporary Iranian artist. Her work is haracterised by intricate lines and gestural brush strokes. She is most known for her pen- or acrylic-on-canvas works. While she engages with other media, including LED and video installations, it is her pen work that has made her famous.

Why Golnaz Fathi?

It was in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution (1978–1979) and Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988) that Fathi came of age. She has developed a practice consisting of contemplative work. Her art offers a sense of stillness and harmony arising from such tumult. Golnaz developed a fascination with traditional Persian calligraphy, while studying graphic design at Tehran’s Azad University, in the 1990s. She went on to receive a diploma from the Iranian Society of Calligraphy. She is one of the few female Iranian artists to have been formally trained in calligraphy. The field otherwise remains heavily dominated by men.

Seeking to expand the discipline’s traditional boundaries, Fathi utilises a technique based on siah-mashq. This is an exercise where a calligrapher writes repeatedly until the paper is covered with black ink. Following this method, she continues to envelop her canvases in black pools. These, upon closer inspection, are revealed to be thin, interwoven lines. When she paints, her brush strokes evoke the gestural marks found in American Abstract Expressionism or Persian script. The fact that they are illegible allows the audience to devise their own meanings. She seldom titles her work in order to maintain this openness.

Fathi also responds to contemporary concerns, while her paintings are open to interpretation. By combining figurative lithographic illustrations with calligraphic strokes, she draws parallels between the futility of wars in Shahnameh and present-day conflicts in Iran and the Middle East at large.

Artistic Process

Golnaz Fathi has the ability to skillfully transform known language into form and composition. Through her training in the field of calligraphy. Fathi was tired of the discipline’s rules and regulations. Thus, she created a new form of expression in her paintings. An invented language firmly rooted in tradition while simultaneously hinting at a social renaissance. The success and strength of her work shoots from the drive to express emotions that cannot be pinned down into words. In that sense the works succeed where language fails.

Fathi also experiments with three-dimensional and digital media. An untitled Plexiglas box from 2013 is lit by LED lights, revealing grids of soft undulating blue lines against a black background. In 2014, the artist exhibited her videos, Let’s Blow Them Away and Dance Me to the End of Night, in which her trademark gestural lines come to life. She explored unconventional supports in 2018, painting on aluminium composite panels with their corners and other sections laser-cut away. Such untitled works were included in her solo presentation Let’s Pretend Everything is Alright at Sundaram Tagore New York, in 2019.


For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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