Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian in her studio
London-based curator Leyla Fakhr sees the production of Monir as a woman’s admiration towards another. We had a talk with her about this experience. ©

Bahman Kiarostami, Monir, 2014

Courtesy of Leyla Fakhr

“Monir” on ICA in London 

A conversation with curator Leyla Fakhr the producer of the documentary Monir about the life of Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian

Mona Zehtabchi 

How did the idea of making a movie about Monir come up? 

The idea of the film was formed while I was working as an Assistant Curator at Tate. I was feeding into the acquisition of art from the Middle East and North Africa. Monir had always been on my radar, as she is an incredible artist who I found innovative, bold and ahead of her time. Once I started researching her life, I became fascinated in her journey as both an artist and a person. I found it inspiring how she stayed consistent and persistent in her practice as an artist despite experiencing extreme political and social changes over the 5 decades of her artistic career. There was also a woman’s admiration towards another for me and I had this urge to capture her forceful personality on camera. I contacted Bahman Kiarostami, because he is an incredible filmmaker, and also has a special talent for bringing out the humour and honesty in his subject’s personality. He is also a director who understands the current context that has been shaping Monir’s work. While Monir enjoyed some success in the late 1960s and early 1970s her career was put on halt when she moved to New York. Her artistic rebirth came in the early 2000s when Monir returned to Tehran and where she still lives and works. The production of this film was really an extension of my curatorial practice and a way to trace and record an important part of art history. 

How much did you actually know her and her work before?

I came across Monir’s work in an exhibition about Iranian art, curated by Rose Issa in the early 2000s. Her use of medium, her understanding of space and sculpture stood out by far for me and I was completely mesmerized by her work. I had brought her work to the museum’s attention very early on, however, it took a while for curators to understand the seriousness of her approach and to understand that her work is about innovation and reinterpretation and not craft, even though it is deeply rooted in tradition. 

How was the experience of working with Monir as your star and you as the producer?

It was a huge privilege to work with Monir. I see it as the film owing all its credit to Bahman, who developed a wonderful relationship with Monir over the course of the production. We worked with Monir over 2.5 years and gradually gained her trust. The dynamics between Monir and Bahman can be felt in the film, which is what makes the film so special. In a way, it was like working with two very creative and strong-minded artists. Not easy at times, but an incredibly rich and memorable experience. I am really grateful for this experience. 

If I’m not mistaken the movie was screened recently in London (in ICA); How was the feedback both from the Iranian and non-Iranian audience?

The film was screened at the ICA in London, it was also shown for over 10 weeks at the Guggenheim in New York, in LA at the LACMA and at the Serravles Museum of contemporary Art. All the screenings have been extremely successful. I am amazed how Iranians and non-Iranians continue to be stunned by Monir’s powerful work and personality which really goes beyond border and time. She is a living legend, and people are always delighted to have ‘met’ her through the film. 

To what extent do you think this movie can introduce Monir’s work to the British audience?

I think the work, always surprises the audience even if they are not familiar with her work. They are  amazed mainly because they haven’t seen anything like it and feel like they have discovered a precious jewel. Monir’s work really speaks to people with a background in the arts, but also to people who are not familiar with arts at all. Perhaps it is this inner force in her work that makes the film so popular. 

Any plans to have a retrospective of her works in the UK?

I hope so. I hope that the film gives curators the inspiration to bring her work to the UK as well. Her work was so well received in New York. I truly believe that it will be a well-attended exhibition in London as well.


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