Aga Khan Centre Gallery presents an exhibition by the internationally renowned Iranian textile artist Bita Ghezelayagh. Somewhere between an artisan and a conceptual artist, Ghezelayagh uses her individualistic style to add a distinctively modern character to textiles of the past. Her work evokes grand themes of courtship, kingship, communication and glories of war while simultaneously celebrating the humblest units of artistic creation: the stitch, knot and rivet.
The exhibition begins with an invitation into a darkened space that shimmers in the far corner, attracting the viewer to take a closer look. Tile-sized mirror works echo the elaborate muqarnas of Islamic architecture. These are placed in a more intimate space while her other works, bathed in light, catch the viewer’s eye with flashes of bright velvety colours and an array of textures and tones. The exhibition reveals the artist’s masterful and inventive use of her trademark materials: velvet, silk, felt and carpet fragments. Each piece is a showcase for her own probing creativity and the skill of the original masters who created the old textile pieces she uses.
Ghezelayagh’s works are the story of cutters, weavers, embroiderers and printers. Using their artefacts, the artist elevates items such as threadbare rugs to make a statement about our age of casual disposal. Her triptychs make use of discarded materials such as traditional scrubbing gloves, while her diptych, with its velvet woven over several months on a traditional loom, is decorated with the shapes of cypress trees. These are fashioned from scraps of carpets from the four corners of Iran, each one representative of a different artistic tradition, but meeting here as an expression of a bigger cultural whole.
The human body has been a point of departure for Ghezelayagh for much of her artistic life. Her work includes shepherds’ cloaks, carpet tunics and metal breastplates. The conundrum of human communication, represented by pen nib motifs, is also a preoccupation. She also uses mirror shapes to form compositions reminiscent of Islamic geometric patterns found throughout Iran that allude to her cultural heritage.
Ghezelayagh is an artist whose fascination with historical textile materials and contemporary objects inspires the need to rethread, retrace, renew and reinvent her collection of archival materials she has collected for most of her life. Her practice transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, giving a new sense of purpose by shifting a material’s identity.