1949 - 2022, Tehran, Iran
Lives and works in Adelaide, Australia
Hossein Valamanesh’s work is comprised of a myriad of elements to create enigmatic installations, sculptures and video works. With elemental substances, natural materials, and found objects, Valamanesh explores notions of an essential connection to place, the nature of being, and the ephemerality of existence.1
Described as deceptively simple, disturbingly beautiful, enigmatic, Valamanesh’s work continually references the idea of a non-existent homeland: a place at once nowhere and everywhere. With connotations of longing, belonging, community, voyage, and identity, Valamanesh’s work is highly influenced by the writings of Rumi and his encounters with the world.2
“I think my art is about not separating elements such as aesthetics, content and form from each other. The interconnectedness of these elements in the work is important,” states Valamanesh. This assessment reads clearly in the artist’s works, which display a mix of visual languages and signifiers that speak to relationships between nature and culture, and the space between places with refinement. Through oblique and discernable references to both his homelands, Valamanesh communicates with ardor what it is to live forever precariously balanced between two places.3
Hossein Valamanesh was born in Tehran, Iran in 1949 and currently lives and works in Adelaide, South Australia. Valamanesh completed his education at the School of Fine Art in Tehran (1970) and the South Australian School of Art, Adelaide (1977).
Valamanesh has participated in many solo and group exhibitions including: Char Soo, Adelaide Film Festival, Samstag Museum, Adelaide (2015); Hossein Valamanesh: Selected works 1992-2013, Grey Noise Gallery, Dubia, UAE (2013); and Australia, Royal Academy of the Arts, London, England (2013). Valamanesh’s work is held in many significant collections in Australia including the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne and the Nationally Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
“Most works of art have within them the seed of an idea and the opportunity of exhibiting them may make it possible for these seeds to grow in the viewers mind with different interpretations. My original idea is only the beginning and I also follow the development of the work with interest. It is by our looking at the works that they realise their potential.”
(excerpt from Artist statement, 2005)
Thomas, Sarah. Hossein Valamanesh: A survey. Art Gallery of South Australia, 2001, pp. 8, 12.
Knights, Mary and Ian North. Hossein Valamanesh: Out of nothing. Wakefield Press: Kent Town SA, 2011, p. 11.
Severi, Hamid. “Valamanesh and translocality.” Broadsheet, 43, 2014, p. 54.
Hossein Valamanesh’s works make poetry of existence, nature, place and time - arranging natural elements – branches, seeds, foliage, bark, wood, earth, ladders and found objects from domestic life – in refined, compositions. There is a high degree of finish and neatness that can sometimes deflect the actual latent emotional content inside. His corpus is infused with gentle humanity. Artists who have followed his career speak of each new show being like an episode of a major epic poem cycle, part of a continuous whole. He has produced major public sculptures in collaboration with Angela Valamanesh and worked in several fields including set design and more recently video.
In Art Monthly (Oct 2017), Andrew Purvis writes: another refrain of Valamanesh’s practise is the entangling of his two homelands, juxtaposing the intricate ornamentation and patterning of Islamic art with natural elements sourced from his (Adelaide) garden and surrounding suburbs.
ARTIST STATEMENT -
This exhibition is composed of a selection of recent works that have evolved from my pre-occupation with ideas and images of maps, Farsi text, architecture and natural materials.
The woven map in Where do you come from? 2013, weaves an upside down world into our usual view of the world and makes it possible to be in two places at once although one may be hidden. The other map work Where do I come from? 2013, uses the landmasses of cut up maps to inscribe a line of a poem by Rumi that has a more non-geographical yearning for home and place of belonging. I have used the second line of a larger poem and below is a translation of the first two lines:
Everyday I meditate upon this, and every night I groan
Why is my own existence to myself the least known?
Whence have I come, why this coming here?
Where to must I go, when will my home to me be shown?
Architecture of the Sky, 1 & 2, 2014 is based on brick patterns of the vaulted ceiling in a mosque in Isfahan.
Hasti Masti, 2015 plays with two Farsi words that are similar in sound and connected in meaning, Hasti meaning existence and Masti intoxication. The two words have been extensively used in Persian poetry with many different connotations.
Breath, 2013, has evolved from an earlier work, Fallen branch, 2005, a circular interconnection of branches cast in bronze that was made from the branch of a tree I found in our street. Breath is reminiscent of the bronchial branches of the lung while still remaining like branches of a tree that could have produced the oxygen we breathe.
'In each breath we take there are two gifts.
The air that fills our lungs prolongs life.
Giving that air back to the world refreshes the soul.
For each one of these Gifts, each time we receive it,
We must give thanks.'
Extract from Saadi's Gulistan, 1259 AD, Shiraz, Iran
In this beautiful verse Saadi asks us to thank God. However, I think we should thank nature, forests and trees.
Hossein Valamanesh, February 2015
ARTIST STATEMENT -
This exhibition is a collection of new works made over the past eighteen months. I have found that shifting from one material to another and exploring different ideas is both challenging and exhilarating.
Lotus vault, 2011, and two other smaller works were inspired by a special room in the Jameh mosque, a magnificent 12th century building in Isfahan, which I visited while travelling in Iran two years ago with Angela and our son Nassiem. I came across a series of five vaulted brick ceilings and my first reaction was that there were similarities to some indigenous Australian art. I have reproduced these brickwork patterns in lotus leaves and in the smaller works in natural ochres. The works allude to the universality of geometry and pattern. I also thought about the state of mind of the builders of these magnificent ceilings.
The image for In my mother’s hands, 2011, was found in my cousin’s family photo album. Although I remember the photo from my earlier years I had not noticed the hands that stopped me from falling over. By colouring them I have emphasized the connections to mother and mother-land.
Passing time, 2011, is a video work made in collaboration with Nassiem. The work is an image of my hands and fingers continuously forming and reforming the infinity sign. The black box with its well-like cone is an integral part of the work. It allows the viewer to see the work from different angels and creates a sense of intimacy.
ARTIST STATEMENT -
My ongoing fascination with the written word is evident in this exhibition and I hope that the work here extends the conversation I started in my last show at Greenaway Art Gallery.
After my explorations with saffron and the word ‘love’ (eshg in Farsi / Persian) I became aware of the associations between text and colour - the yellow of madness and love. Life blood, 2010, gave me the opportunity to play with this coincidence. In Farsi text the word for blood (khun) and the casual expression for life (jun) are identical except for the position of one dot adding to the work’s ambiguity.
Guardian, 2010, is a collaborative work with Angela Valamanesh, inspired by one of her earlier works history, 1993. In that work she extended the back of a small wooden chair with white (plaster) branch-like forms. Next to it, on the wall, was a photo of her father as a boy seated on a similar chair. In Guardian, 2010, the extensions are castings of antlers and we have included the impressions of her footprints on the granite base. Three elements come together, animal, human and manmade. The viewer can imagine a person who is no longer there.
Still standing, 2010, is based on a poem by Rumi, which proclaims that the entire world is intoxicated. I have selected the second half of the first five lines of the poem because of their visual and rhythmic qualities that are unfortunately lost in translation. However, here is my attempt drawn from a small book of selected poems that I’ve had for over forty years. I have recently noticed that there are other versions with slight differences in other sources.
master drunk, servant drunk, friend drunk, stranger drunk,
garden drunk, meadow drunk, bud drunk, thorn drunk,
earth drunk, water drunk, air drunk, fire drunk,
spirit drunk, intellect drunk, imagination drunk, thoughts drunk,
song drunk, harp drunk, plectrum drunk, tar drunk,
I recall seeing news footage of a large group of women protesting outside the gates of Evin prison in Tehran where many political prisoners were being kept. These women were the mothers of the prisoners and they were demanding to visit their children and seeking justice and freedom for them. It is difficult for me to imagine their sorrow and anger. Patchwork quilts are made by mothers all around the world to give comfort and warmth to their children. Shades of green, 2010, was inspired by this humble craft and what I imagined these mothers wished for their children. The work is composed of a grid of patch-work using a variety of green fabrics that spell out the word ‘freedom’ (aazadi in Farsi) and the color green in Iran has recently come to symbolize an expression of the desire for freedom, justice and democracy. As there are many shades of green there are different ways and intensities of expressing this desire. Shades of green, 2010, is my expression of support and sympathy for the aspirations of the Iranian people.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
ARTIST STATEMENT -
'Most works of art have within them the seed of an idea and the opportunity of exhibiting them may make it possible for these seeds to grow in the viewers mind with different interpretations. My original idea is only the beginning and I also follow the development of the work with interest. It is by our looking at the works that they realise their potential.
I do not wish to write about the ideas behind the work but would prefer to talk about the process of making them. In general I do not set out to do a particular show. The work accumulates over time and about 6 months before the show the gallery space becomes an important factor. The complementary or contrasting nature of the works is considered and I take great pleasure in arranging them to animate the space.
Most of the works in this exhibition were actually made over the past 18 months but a few of the images are from three years ago when we visited Iran. Images and materials are regularly collected and they have to wait for their turn.
Our portrait in 'On Reflection' was taken north of Tehran in the beautiful foothills of the Alborz mountains. Sitting by a stream a young Afghani man with a wooden box camera (as I recall from my past) took our picture. Not using any film the negative image was imprinted onto photographic paper and then photographed again to give a positive image. The negative image interested us both more as it appeared that light was emanating from within. The image for 'You become will earth' was collected from a newspaper in Tehran around the same time.
In parallel to projects and other activities and evolving ideas I look around me with open and intuitive eyes, be it in the front gardens of our neighborhood, the peppercorn tree in my back garden (which has come to nothing) or in Bundanon in NSW, collecting maiden hair fern leaves. These collected materials and images become the object of my attention and contemplation. Late last year I found a large broken branch of a white cedar tree in the street which I dragged back to my studio. It took a while before it could tell me what it wanted to be but eventually it grew from a central point to a complex connection of branches which necessitated its transformation into bronze. It became 'Fallen Branch'.
These collected materials and images have their own potential for becoming something else and this is realised by manipulation and arrangement. There are also works that start from an idea and the challenge is to find the right material and method to bring them to life.
The working life of an artist can be solitary which in itself is not a bad thing. I have been fortunate to share this time with my partner, Angela, and we have shared a studio for more than 20 years. Beside collaborating on major projects we have made some sculptural works and a number of works on paper together. Although she is acknowledged through the collaborative works what is not seen is her critical dialogue, advice and assistance for which I would like to thank her. Also I would like to thank Tim Thomson and crew for bronze casting, Catherine Buddle for assistance with digital manipulation of 'On Reflection', Gunter May for his advice and for making the wooden ladder, Ian Burdon who brought me the broken branch with the Jay nest and Minoo Momeni for permission to use the image for 'You will become Earth'.