Shirazeh Houshiary is an Iranian-British installation artist and sculptor.
Houshiary was born in Shiraz, Iran in 1955. Five years before the brewing revolution’s eruption in 1979, she moved to England. After moving, she studied at London’s Chelsea School of Art (now Chelsea College of Art and Design, 1976–79) and was a Junior Fellow at Cardiff College of Art, Wales (1979–80). In the 1980s, she was linked to the so-called New British Sculptors such as Anish Kapoor, Richard Deacon and Tony Cragg, but her work was distinguished by the interpretation of a Persian cultural background through Western sculptural language.
Houshiary’s three-dimensional works implement Islamic decorative motifs and maintain a minimalist geometry. Her early work consisted of allusive environments and biomorphic sculptural forms, demonstrating an attempt, echoed in later work, to embody spiritual concepts physically. As it developed, her work became more autonomous, austere and concerned with materials that could symbolize a spiritual transcendence of materiality.
Shirazeh’s ideology draws on Sufi mystical doctrine and Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a Persian mystic and poet from the 13th century. Drawn from those sources, sacred words are written in Arabic script, minutely repeated and deliberately rendered unintelligible and abstract to produce intricate patterns in graphite and pigment. Although Houshiary derives inspiration from the interdependence of unity and multiplicity, her work is intended to symbolize a universal quest for spiritual union. Conterminous with this is a criticism of the dualisms of Western philosophy, as well as the cults of individuality and originality that dominate Western art practice.
Since rising to prominence as a sculptor in the 1980s, Shirazeh Houshiary’s practice has swelled to encompass painting, installation, architectural projects and film. In 1992 she transitioned to making two-dimensional works on canvas as she shifted away from working with defined form in an effort to capture the intangible and formless.
For the past 20 years, she has been weaving a silvery web across all her paintings. It is made up of two words in Arabic repeated thousands of times: “I am” and “I am not.” Crushed together, so minuscule as to be indecipherable, the words embody the duality of existence in the same way as the yin and the yang.
“It’s the overlapping of the two words, being and not being, life and death,” explains Houshiary. “It’s not about meaning. The relationship between the absence and presence is unknowable and leads to infinite possibility.”
Houshiary does not practice any religion and dislikes such labels as “transcendental,” yet her work have an undeniably spiritual quality, a white glazed-brick tower emitting chants from four religions that was erected in Battery Park in Manhattan in 2004.
For her presentation as a Collateral Event of the 55. International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, Shirazeh Houshiary presented Breath: a video in a re-mastered version, as part of a unique, site-specific installation. Houshiary came to Hotbox Studios in 2012 wishing to bring the film installation up to date to allow for the animation to be played on modern HD LCD screens. Mark Hatchard from Hotbox Studios worked with Houshiary in re-mastering the animation to create a true HD version of the original SD animation.
In the new version of Breath, the evocative chants of Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Islamic prayers emanate from four video screens. The sound is choreographed with images that capture the expanding and contracting breath of the vocalists. The installation takes the form of a rectangular enclosure clad in black felt, which is entered through a narrow passage that leads to a dimly lit white interior. There are four screens hung at eye level from which the chants of the different traditions rise and fall, swell and dissipate in a haunting chorus that fills the room and permeates beyond each of its walls. Where inside there is unity, outside is multiplicity.
Both of these installations were part of her project to create a spiritual embodiment of the breath, which she considers to be the fundamental essence of human existence, her move to two-dimensional work marked a further plunge into the elimination of structure. Houshiary’s consistent use of the white or black field represents a preoccupation with the infinite; while white expresses the absence of boundary, black collapses into itself as with the experience of falling infinitely. Houshiary’s use of word and text is a common denominator within her oeuvre, though their representation constantly evolves.
The commission for the East Window of St Martins in the Fields in Trafalgar Square, presents a cross, warped and spanning from a circular motif, as if reflected in water. Installed as part of the £36 million refurbishment project which took place at St Martin-in-the-Fields from 2005 to 2008, Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Horne’s East Window is beautiful in its apparent initial simplicity, made of etched blown clear glass and similarly monochromatic peened stainless steel.
“The universe is in a process of disintegration – everything is in a state of erosion, and yet we try to stabilize it. This tension fascinates me and it’s at the core of my work”, she said.
One aspect of the brief was that the window should “successfully animate the light”, and it certainly achieves that, whilst maintaining the interest of the viewer with its other-worldly curves.
In 2014 she is featured not only with an upside down Christmas tree, based on her Tate Britain Christmas tree in 1993 in Victoria Beckham’s new showroom in Dover Street, but also with a specially commissioned 26-foot sculpture that hangs from the roof down through the central stairwell of Jimmy Choo’s Townhouse in New Bond Street. It has taken a year to complete and is a first site-specific commission within the UK fashion industry.
Entitled Chrysalis consists of an inner core and an outer skin which Denis sees as combining the elements of strength and fragility that characterize the classic Jimmy Choo shoe. Looking at it at eye level, it is transparent; the open brick style components strike Denis as emblematic of the new DNA he is bringing to his business. But when seen from the top or bottom it resembles a serpentine body that changes imperceptibly under the influence of a discreet lighting system.
Cross-sensory perception quickens and multiplies in Smell of First Snow, Shirazeh Houshiary’s eighth exhibition at Lisson Gallery in 2015. Through painting, drawing and sculptural work, Houshiary approaches the intangible and evanescent, articulating a metaphysical reality that lies beyond mere form and surface.
Accompanying the paintings are also sculptures made in the same year. Two wall-based works, Allegory of Sight and Allegory of Sound, explicitly strive after synaesthesia. Resembling dancing ribbons or darting wavelengths, these cast stainless steel sculptures are coated in dense black and evanescent white paint respectively, creating a dialectical evocation of these vital senses. Lit from above and attached to the wall, they traverse not only between two- and three-dimensionality, but also between the physical and immaterial worlds, throwing shadows whose echoing delineations form a continuation of the works.
Ever since her moving to Britain, she has returned to her home country only twice; the lack of democracy, in politics and in the home, depresses her.
“I don’t want to deny my roots. My Persian heritage is definitely there,” she says. “It’s not something I need to defend or fight for. It’s just there.” But she feels more connection with her adopted country than with her homeland.
In 1994 Houshiary was shortlisted for the Turner Prize at the Tate Gallery, London, together with Willie Doherty (who presented the first video work to be exhibited in the Prize), Peter Doig, and the winner Antony Gormley. In 1997 she was named professor at the London Institute (now University of the Arts).
Houshiary‘s presence in museums and public collection ranges from Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Guggenheim Museum… She has taken part in major group shows worldwide and also had numerous solo exhibitions at places such as the Lisson Gallery in London or Lehmann Maupin in New York, which both represent her.
Houshiary once said, ‘An artist is someone who is capable of unveiling the invisible, not a producer of art objects … In my work there is a continual invention of already existing forms and symbols precisely because the problem is not to be original, or indeed to establish a distinction between forms of knowledge, between East and West’.
Shirazeh Houshiary lives in London.
|2015||Smell of First Snow||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|2015||Future Seasons Past||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Group|
|2014||Love Story: Anne & Wolfgang Titze Collection||21er Haus and the Winter Palace, Vienna, Austria||Group|
|2014||Venice Architectural Biennial||Venice, Italy||Group|
|2014||Nostalgic for the Future||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|2014||Reductive Minimalism: Women Artists in Dialogue, 1960-2012||University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI||Group|
|2013||The eye fell in love with the ear||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Solo|
|2013||Breath - Collateral Event of the 55th International Art Exhibition||La Biennale di Venezia, Venice||Solo|
|2013||Breath||Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai, India||Solo|
|2013||Writings Without Borders||Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong||Group|
|2013||Sculpture in the City||City of London, London||Group|
|2013||Line and Form||Marc Straus, New York, NY||Group|
|2013||50 Years of Collecting Islamic Art||Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY||Group|
|2013||Calligraffiti: 1984-2013||Leila Heller Gallery, New York, NY||Group|
|2013||Pattern||Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, MI||Group|
|2012||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lisson Gallery, Milan, Italy||Solo|
|2012||Shirazeh Houshiary||LA Louver, Los Angeles, CA||Solo|
|2012||Kiev Biennale||Kiev, Ukraine||Group|
|2012||Common Ground||13th Architecture Biennale, Venice||Group|
|2012||Summer Exhibition||Royal Academy of Arts, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|2011||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|2011||Altar||Saint Martin-in-the-Field Church, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|2011||Made in the UK||RISD Museum, Providence, RI||Group|
|2011||Creating the New Century: Contemporary Art from the Dicke Collection||The Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, OH||Group|
|2010||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Solo|
|2010||The 17th Biennale of Sydney||Sydney, Australia||Group|
|2010||Drawing to form: Art from the Weltkunst Collection Irish Museum of Modern Art||Crawford Art Gallery, Cork||Group|
|2008||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|2008||Tropismi||Arte Contemporanea, Rome, Italy||Group|
|2007||Douglas Breath||Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai||Solo|
|2007||Shirazeh Houshiary||Hyde, Dublin, Ireland||Solo|
|2007||What is Painting? Contemporary Art from the Collection||MoMA, New York, NY||Group|
|2007||Pure||Sean Kelley Gallery, Los Angeles, CA||Group|
|2007||Reverence||HVCCA - Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill||Group|
|2006||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Solo|
|2006||Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking||Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY||Group|
|2006||A New East Window for St Martin-in-the-Fields||Church of St-Martin-in-theFields, Trafalger Square, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|2006||Motion on Paper||Ben Brown Fine Arts, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|2006||Twice Drawn||The Tang Museum at Skidmore College, Syracuse, NY||Group|
|2006||Out of Time: Contemporary Art from the Collection||Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY||Group|
|2006||The Contemporary Persian Scene: The American and European Experience||Leila Taghinia Milani Heller Gallery, New York, NY||Group|
|2005||Effervescence||Musée des Beaux Arts, Angers, France||Group|
|2004||Works on Paper||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Solo|
|2004||Breath by Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Home||Battery Park, New York, NY||Solo|
|2004||The search for identity, new visions||Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, Doncaster, United Kingdom||Group|
|2004||20 Years||Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria||Group|
|2003||Shirazeh Houshiary - Recent Works||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Solo|
|2003||Shirazeh Houshiary||Tate Liverpool||Solo|
|2003||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|2003||Back in Shape||Southampton City Art Gallery, Hampshire, United Kingdom||Group|
|2003||From Dust to Dusk - International Exhibition of Contemporary Art||Charlottenborg Exhibition Hall, Copenhagen, Denmark||Group|
|2003||Happiness||Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan||Group|
|2002||Shirazeh Houshiary||Museum SITE Santa Fe, NM||Solo|
|2002||Thinking Big: concepts for twenty-first century British Sculpture||Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy||Group|
|2002||Sculpture Biennial Munsterland 2003||Warendorf County, Germany||Group|
|2002||A Century of Innocence||Rooseum, Malmö, Sweden||Group|
|2002||Tenable||Newlyn Art Gallery, Cornwall, United Kingdom||Group|
|2002||As Fontes||Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal, The Netherlands||Group|
|2002||Group Show||Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, NY||Group|
|2001||Sculpture Contemporaine||Substances, Lyon, France||Group|
|2001||New Works||Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York||Group|
|2000||Self-Portraits||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1999||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lehmann Maupin, New York, NY||Solo|
|1999||Art Worlds in Dialogue||Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany||Group|
|1999||10 Intensita in Europa||Museo Pecci Prato, Italy||Group|
|1999||British Sculpture||Skulptur im Schloßpark Ambras, Germany||Group|
|1997||Shirazeh Houshiary||British Museum, Islamic Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1997||Shadow of Life||London Contemporary Art Fair, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|1997||Meditation||Madrasa Ibn Youssef, Marakesh, Morocco||Group|
|1997||Sculpture at Goodwood||Goodwood Sculpture Park, West Sussex, United Kingdom||Group|
|1997||Follow Me - Britische Kunst an der Unterelbe||Schloß Agathenburg, Agathenburg, Germany||Group|
|1997||Negotiating Rapture||Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL||Group|
|1997||Sculpture from the Arts Council Collection||Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, United Kingdom||Group|
|1997||23rd Bienal Internacional de Sao Paolo||Sao Paolo, Brazil||Group|
|1995||Isthmus||Le Magasin, Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble||Solo|
|1995||Isthmus||Museum Villa Stuck, Munich||Solo|
|1995||Isthmus||Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht||Solo|
|1995||Isthmus||Hochschule für angewandte Kunst, Vienna||Solo|
|1995||Contemporary British Art in Print||Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland||Group|
|1995||Contemporary British Art in Print||Yale Center for British Art, New Haven||Group|
|1995||British Art of the 1980s & 1990s - works from The WeltKunst Collection||The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland||Group|
|1995||Dialogues of Peace||Palais de Nations, Geneva, Switzerland||Group|
|1995||A Changing World - Fifty Years of Sculpture from the British Council Collection||Castle Riding Hall, Prague||Group|
|1995||Arte Inglese: A New Generation||Galleria Marabini, Bologna||Group|
|1994||The Sense of Unity||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1994||Skulptur Statt Denkmal||Galerie Marion unRoswitha Fricke, Düsseldorf, Germany||Group|
|1994||Sculptors’ drawings presented by the Weltkunst Foundation||Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|1994||Turner Prize Shortlisted Artist’s Exhibition||Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|1994||Sculpture at Goodwood||The Hat Hill Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, United Kingdom||Group|
|1993||Turning Around the Centre||University of Massachusetts at Amherst Fine Art Center||Solo|
|1993||Turning Around the Centre||York University Art Gallery, Ontario||Solo|
|1993||Turning Around the Centre||University of Florida, the Harn Museum, Gainesville||Solo|
|1993||Dancing around my ghost||Camden Arts Centre, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1993||Second Tyne International||Newcastle-upon-Tyne, United Kingdom||Group|
|1993||Machines for Peace||Venice Biennale, Italy||Group|
|1993||State of Siege||Bienal Internacional de Óbidos, Portugal||Group|
|1993||Tresors de Voyage||Monastero dei Padri Mechitaristi dell’ Isola di San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Venice||Group|
|1992||Shirazeh Houshiary||Galleria Valentina Moncada, Rome, Italy||Solo|
|1992||Isthmus||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1990||Dujourie, Fortuny - O’Brien, Kapoor, Houshiary||Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, The Netherlands||Group|
|1989||Les Magiciens de la Terre||Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France||Group|
|1988||Shirazeh Houshiary||Centre d’Art Contemporain, Musée Rath, Geneva, Switzerland||Solo|
|1988||Shirazeh Houshiary||Museum of Modern Art, Oxford||Solo|
|1987||Breath||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1987||Skulptur Projekte 87||Westfalisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Munster, Germany||Group|
|1987||Vessels||Serpentine Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|1986||Shirazeh Houshiary||Galerie Paul Andriesse, Amsterdam, The Netherlands||Solo|
|1986||Sonsbeek 86. International Sculpture Exhibition||Arnhem, The Netherlands||Group|
|1986||Skulptur - 9 Kunstnere fra Storbrittanien||Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark||Group|
|1985||The Poetic Project||Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Ireland||Group|
|1985||The Poetic Project||The Arts Council Gallery, Belfast||Group|
|1985||The British Show||Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth||Group|
|1985||The British Show||Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney||Group|
|1985||The British Show||Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane||Group|
|1985||The British Show||The Exhibition Hall, Melbourne||Group|
|1985||The British Show||National Art Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand||Group|
|1985||Seconds Ateliers Internationaux des Pays de la Loire||FRAC Pays de la Loire, Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, Fontevraud, France||Group|
|1984||Shirazeh Houshiary||Lisson Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1984||British Art Show: Old Allegiances and New Directions 1979-1984||City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham||Group|
|1984||British Art Show: Old Allegiances and New Directions 1979-1984||Ikon Gallery, Birmingham||Group|
|1984||British Art Show: Old Allegiances and New Directions 1979-1984||Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh||Group|
|1984||British Art Show: Old Allegiances and New Directions 1979-1984||Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield||Group|
|1984||British Art Show: Old Allegiances and New Directions 1979-1984||Southampton Art Gallery||Group|
|1983||Shirazeh Houshiary||Centro d’Arte Contemporanea, Siracusa, Italy||Solo|
|1983||Shirazeh Houshiary||Galleria Massimo Minini, Milan, Italy||Solo|
|1983||Shirazeh Houshiary||Galerie Grita Insam, Vienna, Austria||Solo|
|1983||Beelden - Sculpture 1983||Rotterdam Arts Council, Rotterdam, The Netherlands||Group|
|1983||New Art||Tate Gallery, London, United Kingdom||Group|
|1982||Shirazeh Houshiary||Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge, United Kingdom||Solo|
|1982||Aperto 82||XL Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy||Group|
|1982||Objects and Figures - New Sculpture in Britain||Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland||Group|
|1980||Shirazeh Houshiary||Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, United Kingdom||Solo|