Stories say that in the seventh century, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was visited in Mecca by Angel Gabriel and a mythological creature called the Buraq (a small winged horse with a human face). The Prophet then mounted the Buraq and travelled to the ‘farthest mosque’ (generally accepted to be in Jerusalem), before being taken to the heavens to meet the earlier prophets, as well as Allah. He was then instructed to tell his followers to pray five times a day. This was the beginning of the daily prayer rituals, one of the five pillars of Islam.
This story is the springboard for young Iranian artist Shahriar Ahmadi’s ‘The Mi’raj Series’, currently on show at Gallery Etemad. The dozen or so paintings, created between 2009 and 2011, essentially describe the battle between good and evil. The figure of the Prophet (or in this case, the artist) is cloaked in green, his face veiled (the Prophet’s face was commonly veiled in Persian miniature tradition); but the angels here hone in on the figure rather than help him – their wings sharp and their intentions even sharper, an ambush of the highest order.
Although the series wasn’t created to be viewed as a whole, the pieces hang together nicely. The earlier works (above right) are more clearly linked to Persian miniatures, while the latter pieces (above and right) are more abstract, yet all manage to relate to the past in a more-than-tokenistic sense while still being contemporary.
‘We always have to reflect back to history and use that as an indicator, a beacon,’ explains Ahmadi. The words of the poet Shaadi border many of the works, but the artist’s own thoughts are interlaced among them.
As such, Ahmadi wholeheartedly claims that the works reflect his own personal situation – something that was happening to him in his personal life at the time. However, as a man still living in Iran, it’s possible that this is a censorship of ideas: even if the narrative of his canvases reflects the current state of affairs in his home country, he wouldn’t risk admitting it.
However, this doesn’t take away from his bravery as an artist. A concurrently created body of works by Ahmadi, titled ‘Archaic Techniques of Lovemaking’, captures moments caught between two people, feverish brush strokes pulsating in acrylic; and in ‘The Mi’raj Series’ hidden messages seep from the many layers on the canvas, a woman’s chest emerging from seemingly haphazard strokes of paint, applied to the canvas with Ahmadi’s own hand. ‘I like the symbiotic process of working with my hands,’ explains the softly spoken artist.
Whatever you take from the works, Ahmadi says he aims to leave the viewer with an overall feeling. Is that a feeling of darkness or light, we ask? ‘My hope is light,’ he replies, in a manner as clear and yet slippery as the true intentions behind his creations.