Roshanak Aminelahi, ‘Aroos’e Honar’, 2017. Mixed media on canvas Image Credit: Supplied

In her first solo show in Dubai, titled Gordafarid, Iranian artist Roshanak Aminelahi is presenting a series of paintings that are inspired by ancient Persian mythology, such as the epic poem Shahnameh, written by Ferdausi in 1000AD, and the writings of other well-known Persian poets. The Dubai-based artist has used mythology as a starting point to explore universal human concerns such as our innate fears, hopes and desires, as well as to talk about global contemporary issues.

“I grew up listening to the stories of the Shahnameh and the beautiful, moving poems of Hafez and other poets, and am deeply inspired by them. After moving to Dubai over a decade ago, I got the opportunity to interact with people of various nationalities, and I realised that the themes of war, heroism, love, loss and freedom in these stories and poems are universal and timeless. My paintings are rooted in my Persian heritage, and based on ancient folklore, but they are relevant to the current geo-political situation, and every viewer can connect with the characters, issues and emotions they deal with,” Aminelahi says.

The artist is deeply troubled by the conflicts in the region and across the world. Her monumental portraits of great kings and brave warriors such as Rustam and Sohrab highlight the lack of strong and inspirational leaders in contemporary society. She has focused especially on the courageous female warrior Gordafarid, mentioned in the Shahnameh, to celebrate the spirit of women who have shown exceptional courage in fighting against the dark forces of terrorism and injustice in our times.

“The news reports about the Kurdish women fighters, who took up arms to protect their villages in northern Syria against Isis [Daesh], reminded me of the story of Gordafarid, the powerful defiant daughter of a celebrated warrior. After the leader of the Persian side was captured by an invading army, Gordafarid joined the battle disguised as a male soldier, and boldly charged at the approaching army. To me she represents the brave Kurdish women, but she also symbolises every woman who has stepped out of her comfort zone to fight social, political or personal battles in her life,” Aminelahi says.

The centrepiece of the show is a towering portrait of Gordafarid. She is surrounded by paintings of famous warriors from Persian mythology, taking her place as a larger than life persona amongst these strong and much-admired men. Other paintings in the show are inspired by the poems of Hafez and other Persian poets about love, courage, freedom and finding your inner strength.

In a series of smaller paintings, Aminelahi has explored various facets of Gordafarid’s personality. “I wanted to capture Gordafarid’s beauty, courage, femininity and defiance; but I also wanted to show her as a faceless woman, forced to conceal her female identity on the battle field, and as a woman who puts on a mask to hide her emotions,” she says.

The artist has a unique style. She uses a knife to make thick strokes of oil paint on her canvas, building layers of different colours to create highly textured, multi-dimensional works with a strong sense of movement.

Her impressionistic portraits thus have the feel of capturing something ongoing, underscoring the nature of the issues they address.

“As a graphic designer and illustrator, I am interested in analyzing forms and patterns. In developing my signature style, I took inspiration from the ancient designs and textures of Persian carpets, and the way the weavers boldly put contrasting colours next to each other; but I also wanted to create a kind of pixel with paint to make imagery that is not well-defined and hence universal,” Aminelahi says.

Gordafarid will run at Ayyam Gallery, 12 Alserkal Avenue until October 26.