A Persian artist at 91

Deceptively "simple," this non-reductivist seductively conceptual art by Monir Shahroudy produces pleasure –  and discovery – where other conceptual works often merely baffle or confound.

The influence of a mature perspective, paired with a Persian sensibility and a joyous dismissal of the expected conventions, marks this bright, effervescent exhibit by a past mistress of the form.  It is a satisfying medium she has chosen, and then she adds the alchemy of her enriching interior/exterior and refractive take on altogether charming and endearing structures that alter with every viewer and passerby.

Back millennia, Iranians discovered the art of reflective glass-making.  This craft art was then taken to Florence by the Iranian Jewish merchants called Medici.  (How many knew the Medici were Jews?)  In Iran, mirrors are used generously in architecture, in the ornamentation of public edifices, and in various forms and configurations, in ceremonies.

A brief review of Iranian history, when it was still Persia.  For those familiar with the Book of Esther, ancient Persia was the troubling venue where anti-Jew royal advisor Haman threatened the entire Persian Jewish community, until feisty beauty Esther, acting on the intel and wisdom of her uncle, Mordechai, brought down the palace plot.

Coming up to modern days, a series of Qajan and Pahlevi families have managed the country.

Arg became the site of the Qajar, who ruled from 1794 until the rise of the Pahlevis in 1925.  The Court and the Golestan Palace became the official residence of the royal Qajar family, but the palace was rebuilt to its current form in 1865 by Haji Ab ol Hasan Mimar Navai.  During Shah Pahlevi’s mis-20th-century era, Golestan Palace hosted royal receptions, formal events, and ritual celebrations.  The Golestan consisted of 17 halls, museums, and lapidary museums.  “Diamond” Hall is located in the southern wing, titled Diamond because of the exceptional mirror work inside the building.

The most amazing of all these sumptuously appointed “nooks,” adorned with gifts from dynasties and monarchs, was Mirror Hall, the most famous of the palace halls.  This relatively small hall is famous for its extraordinary mirror work, in keeping with the prevailing dominance of mirrors and their power in the Iranian/Persian cosmogeny.  The hall, designed by Haj Abd ol Hossein Memar Bashi and constructed by Yahya Khan, the minister of architecture, stood in unrivaled grandiosity until the Pahlevi administration constructed its own grander palace at Niavaran, where Reza Shah was coronated on the exquisite Marble Throne, followed decades later by the coronation of the shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, whom we call the Shah of Iran (from 1941 until being forcibly deposed in 1979), held in its Museum Hall.  Another hall decorated in mirrors: Brilliant Hall, so named for its adornment by scintillating mirror work of dozens of Iranian artisans.

So for hundreds of years, from the 16th century Arg down to 1979 and more, mirrors played an honored role in the decoration schemes of Persian artisans, and in the esteem of its leaders prior to the intellectual and political wrecking ball of Islamization initiated against the Old Way with the revolution in 1979.

The philosophy of the silvery reflectivity of mirrors is based on the ancient Zoroastrian belief system of Iranians common prior to Iran’s forced Islamization via revolution – and the 1979 deposing of the shah.

The mirror represents “self-reflection” and, by extension, enlightenment.

Considering this abundant preamble to her expression in mirrored sculpture and movables, this artist is demonstrating a subversive return to the Persian ways of old, those preceding and antedating the goals and disruptive ransacking targets of the current  regime.  That is why the work of this artist is reflective of a shapely rejection of her natal Iranian current rejectionist, sharia-bent system.  She is saying, as should those knowledgeable, that Iran is far more, and better, than its harsh, irredeemable mullahcracy.

Good that at least one artist keeps on creating objects of evocative beauty for her widening audience beyond the confines of her personal memes.

The artist's current show is up at the Guggenheim.  Let's pray the mirror motif presages a return to the Persia before the nuclear-besotted mullahs of the day destroy the world, old or new.

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