Lawrie Shabibi is pleased to welcome back Farhad Ahrarnia for his second solo exhibition at the gallery opening on 8 February. The exhibition brings together new pieces from his on-going wall-based Khatam series, alongside a new series entitled Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You, which comprise works on cardboard with gilded illuminations painted on their surfaces. 


Over the last three years Ahrarnia has engaged with the urban landscape of Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran by collecting numerous pieces of discarded packaging boxes of different shapes and sizes to form and compose a visual and textual archive. Their title - Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You - is taken from a poem by Charles Bukowski, a German-born American poet, novelist, and short story writer who was notorious for writings that were influenced by his home surroundings and the impact of modernisation and industrialisation on the poor and working classes.


Ahrarnia’s use of a simple material associated with manufacturing and consumption is his own commentary on Iran's historical position as an industrial base; the series a testimony to the legacy of modern mass-production lines and the rampant consumption patterns across his country and globally. The formal and cubic compositions of these works also encapsulate the artist’s ongoing interest in Modernism and Constructivism; his use of cardboard as a material evocative of the little known cardboard-based works of US artist Robert Rauschenberg produced in the early 1970’s.  “By collecting and appropriating the modern cubic structure of these boxes and their worn-out surfaces I intend to raise their significance and cultural value, turning them into critical and self referential art”.


In what he describes as a “performative act” the artist deliberately selects boxes marked with “Made in Iran” texts, symbols and fonts that stem from early 20th century advertising graphics which in turn were influenced by the Russian avant-garde.  They are also selected for the products that they contained (such as locally made kerosene lamps and hair spray) lending them an Iranian identity and evoking a sense of nostalgia. The boxes once chosen are dismantled in his studio so as to retain their original history through stains, dents, and rips and then embellished with Tazhib – decorative concentric patterns that are traditionally applied on historically important and highly valued devotional texts. By engaging with these discarded materials, Ahrarnia lends an acute sensitivity to the value and dignity of materials.


Like the cardboard series, Farhad Ahrarnia’s Khatam-based works also employ an Iranian decorative craft form to explore modernism and constructivism. Khatam is an Iranian micro-mosaic technique dating back 600 years and used decoratively to embellish domestic objects. Individual strings of long thin filaments made from organic materials such as ivory, camel bone, wood, copper, silver and brass are methodically grouped together, then cut at the cross section to reveal strips of complex geometric compositions. Ahrarnia’s interest in exploring the Khatam marquetry as a mark-making medium combines an aesthetic tradition and applies it to seminal 20th century Modernist works. In this exhibition he appropriates Modernist and Constructivist paintings by Max Bill, EL Lissitzky and Kazimir Malevich as a blueprint from which to lay out the mosaics. 


Ahrarnia’s interest in materiality and process lies at the foundation of his practice. On the one hand his Khatam compositions incorporate high art ornamentation and on the other he embellishes discarded cardboard boxes found in the Iran’s streets; for each series he explores the potential of traditional craft, emphasising its engagement with the modern and embedding various cultural sensibilities onto two seemingly incongruous surfaces.