ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Lutz Becker, John Berger, Victoria Brittain, Juliet Cestar, Leila Chahid, Leila Chatti, Saeb Eigner, England & Co, Iraida Icaza, Moez Jamal, Petra Kottmair, Shereen Mahhouk, Christophe Maout, Omar Mazhar, Venetia Porter at the British Museum, Heini Schneebeli, Bahiyeh Afnan Shahid, Jonathan Wood and AndrĂŠ Gaspard
FOREWORD by John Berger
PREFACE by Rose Issa
INTRODUCTION by Lutz Becker
meeting mark tobey by Maliheh Afnan
reliefs & objects
It was the Lebanese painter Shafic Abboud who first introduced me to Maliheh Afnan in Paris, in 1985. He was surprised that I did not know her; surprised, because we had so many things in common: a Persian and Arab past, cities we had lived in, mutual friends. I immediately went to see her at her beautiful flat in Neuilly, where her cat enjoyed unrestricted access and would walk all over her paintings.
This was the beginning of a long friendship and collaboration, one of the most moving and beautiful discoveries of my life: of a world of talent, generosity, discretion, strongly-held principles, sincerity, modesty and honesty. To have all these qualities is a blessing, but, above all, she has elegance â€“ an elegance of the soul. This is reflected in her home, which is a refuge for the eyes.
SUNKISSED Mixed media and collage on paper, 24cm x 24cm (1978)
She always works from home, and the spirit of her London apartment is the same as it was back then in Paris: filled with marvellous, understated art. Home, as you will read in the questionnaire at the end of this book, is an essential part of her universe. Her homes have reduced in size over time, through dispossession, but have always been rebuilt, with few but exquisite objects, remembrances of things past and present – her uncle’s old manuscripts, her hundreds of pens and pencils, her granddaughter’s chess board and balloons.
Afnan was born at a time of great upheaval in the Middle East, caught at the crossroads of huge historical change. She has looked back and moved forward through the chaos of contemporary art history to discover what endures. She has moved in between cultural traditions, revealing hybrid forms of life and art, to become a ‘visual poet’. I can think of two ‘soul mates’ for her – two other brilliant, modest artists and visual poets: the public art sculptor and architect Siah Armajani and the film director Abbas Kiarostami. They are all in the same league – people of few words who create a world of supreme elegance, brilliance of mind and clear-sightedness.
Afnan’s work reflects on what it means to survive and create within a system that has until now put artists from the Middle East at the periphery of the international art scene, with its emphasis on marketing rather than relevance to contemporary culture. She distances herself from the superficial with her mesmerising layers and mappings of patterns, repeated glyphs and ghostly outlines, which induce an almost trance-like state in the viewer. We are left with a sense of what it means to live in other times, in different places. In essence, Afnan’s work is about memory, and her images of eroding traces, faces and places linger long in the memory.
Rose Issa London, 2009
HOLIDAY MIXED MEDIA AND GLUE ON PAPER, 20CM x 27CM (1964). © Iraida Icaza, 2009
FULL OF DAYS MIXED MEDIA AND GLUE ON PAPER, 47CM X 64CM (1971)
LABYRINTH MIXED MEDIA ON RICE PAPER, 44.5CM X 68.5CM (1974)
OPEN LETTER MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 48CM X 62CM (1998)
REFUGE MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 72CM X 101CM (2008)
MAN WITH BOW TIE 2 MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 48CM X 40CM (1990)
SUSPENDED SENTENCE MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 20CM X 19CM (1988)
HE MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 23CM X 22CM (2007)
FLIGHT MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 25CM X 20CM (1991)
FOR R.R. MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 22CM X 28CM (1991)
BAAKLEEN MEMORIES MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 23CM X 29CM (1995)
LOST CITY MIXED MEDIA ON PAPER, 40CM X 46CM (1987)
DETAILS OF VARIOUS RELIEFS (1990s)
TABLET PLASTER OF PARIS AND WATER-BASED PAINT, 20CM X 23.5CM (1997)
HAPPY MEMORY INK AND GAUZE ON PAPER, 11CM X 17CM (2007)
VEILED THOUGHTS FROM A SERIES, 33CM X 27CM (2007)
VEILED BILLET DOUX FROM A SERIES, 25.5CM X 20CM (2006)