The Aga Khan Centre Gallery to show acclaimed textile artist Bita Ghezelayagh

Mirror series, 2019–20 © Bita Ghezelayagh

The Aga Khan Centre Gallery is set to follow up on the success of their inaugural exhibition of Lebanese-Egyptian artist Bahia Shehab with a major show by internationally renowned Iranian textile artist Bita Ghezelayagh, opening 27 February.

Ghezelayagh sits somewhere between an artisan and a conceptual artist, using her individualistic style to add a distinctively modern character to textiles of the past. Like the well-known Iranian artists from the Saqqaqaneh movement of Iranian Pop Art in the 1950s, such as Hossein Zenderoudi and Parviz Tanavoli, Bita Ghezelayagh has sought a new visual language that embraces tradition and modernity through a unique combination of ancient signs, symbols and calligraphy with conceptual art.

Velvet series, 2019–20 © Bita Ghezelayagh

While Ghezelayagh’s work often evokes grand themes of courtship, kingship, communication and glories of war, she simultaneously celebrates the humblest units of artistic creation: the stitch, knot and rivet. Indeed, her works embody qualities such as simplicity, heft and resilience, which she notices are often disregarded in Iran’s march to modernity.

She was born in Florence, Italy, and brought up in Tehran where she lived through the revolution of 1979 and the war. Previously an architect and art director of several Iranian films, Ghezelayagh studied felt-making in Iran in 2003, subsequently designing her own display tunics and capes as felt canvasses on which to express her memories of growing up in Iran.

Entitled, Rethreading and Retracing: Textiles & Techniques, the upcoming exhibition will include an array of textile works revealing 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. 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.

Mirror series, 2019–20 © Bita Ghezelayagh

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.

Velvet series, 2019–20 © Bita Ghezelayagh

Equally 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.

Ultimately, 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. This exhibition will be an opportunity to witness this mode of working and see how her practice transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary, giving a new sense of purpose by shifting a material’s identity.

Rethreading and Retracing: Textiles & Techniques by Bita Ghezelayagh

Exhibition Dates: 27 Feb — 3 May

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