Gallery view of the works of Fereydoun Ave and Shaqayeq Arabi

Total Art at the Courtyard continues its series “Visual Dialogues” with an exhibition of recent works by well-known Iranian artists Fereydoun Ave and Shaqayeq Arabi. The show sets up a conversation between Arabi’s three-dimensional works and Ave’s two-dimensional pieces, exploring their mutual interest in material, abstraction and the found object. Both artists work with objects available to them in their surroundings, turning them into a poetic stream of consciousness, telling stories about the past, the present and the future.

Arabi is a compulsive collector of found materials, which she uses to create her work. In her latest series, she has used pieces from a broken classic chair, fly nets, palm fronds, bells, a cycle pump, a pair of crutches and spatulas from a pizzeria — all found on the streets of Dubai — to create aesthetic and thought-provoking assemblages that express her feelings, emotions and memories, and speak about the fine balance between our built environment and nature. “I work spontaneously, but the one conscious decision I make is to always include some organic materials in my compositions,” she says.

Ave has been an influential personality in the Iranian theatre, film and arts scene. Besides being an internationally recognised artist and curator, he is also a collector of art and antiques, and a mentor to the next generation of Iranian artists. He has lived and worked in Europe, America and Iran, and was a close friend of legendary American artist Cy Twombly. His new cycle of works “Shah Abbas and his Page Boy” comprises a series of textile-based mixed-media pieces that combine his roles as artist, collector and mentor, and reflect his deep understanding of both Western and Eastern art.

Ave began by buying large blankets from the Teheran bazaar and commissioned his protégé, emerging artist Mansour Rafie, who works with fabric, to transform them into quilts. He then used the quilts as canvases, painting on them with crayons, pastels and paint, and embellishing them with writing and with patches of fabrics from his huge collection of textiles, which includes block printed cottons, Qajar costumes, and old and new fabric fragments that caught his eye.

The completed artworks are contemporary representations of the traditional “lahaf” or comforter, and allude to the Persian tradition of placing a “lahaf” over a brazier (“korsi”), around which people would sit with their feet under the comforter to keep warm during winter.

“The ‘lahaf korsi’ was a centre of social interaction, where Iranians congregated to discuss news and views with their legs under the blanket. Families bonded, politics was discussed, friendships were formed, and secret liaisons were sealed discreetly under the covers. My lahafs reflect that sense of comfort, and offer a window into Iranian history, evoking the forgotten stories, activities and human interaction around domestic winter braziers that have now disappeared. But they also allude to what was hidden under the lahaf and seen over the lahaf, evoking the divide between private intimacy and familiarity, and the restrictions imposed on freedom in public life in Iran,” Ave says.

The title of the series refers to a Safavid era painting, hanging in the Louvre, that depicts the mighty Persian ruler Shah Abbas in a tender embrace with his page boy. Through this depiction of a rarely seen sensitive side of the ruthless ruler, Ave links the past with the present.

“Shah Abbas is known as a brutal ruler, but this miniature painting shows a very different private persona. I referenced this painting through the title of my series, and also by using the typical Safavid period aesthetics of the borders and asymmetric writing in my works, to draw attention to the fact that even today there is a stark contrast between the strict public code of conduct and the atmosphere at hidden private parties in Iranian society. By going back to history and ancient tradition, I want to point out how social contradictions are deeply anchored in the collective cultural image of how Iran perceives itself,” Ave says.

Jyoti Kalsi is an arts-enthusiast based in Dubai.

“Visual Dialogues” will run at Total Art at the Courtyard, in the In Between Space until December 30.