art exhibition in Melbourne

Ahmad Nasrollahi’s Haji Firouzes 

In ancient Iranian culture, Firouz means victorious or gratified. Firouz is a symbol of Siyavash, itself a symbol of death and regeneration. It goes without saying that the word Haji (a person who has visited Mecca) has been added to Firouz after the birth of Islam. We can trace the symbols of this custom in ancient Iran and even in Mesopotamia. The Sumerian rite of Dumuzi or Babylon’s Tammuz (the martyred God) who, according to the beliefs of ancient peoples, used to die before the beginning of the new year and was reborn on the first day, represents the same custom. In other words, nature died in winter and was reborn upon the coming of a new year. In ancient Iran, Dumuzi was replaced by Siyavash who was originally a plant. When his blood was shed on the ground, he turned into the Siyavashan plant which is the symbol of regeneration.

Ahmad Nasrollahi’s two decades of work on Haji Firouzes is a lasting and memorable achievement. These illustrations present the meaning of this ancient myth through a new pictorial language. The old works show Haji Firouzes holding colourful tambourines and Dafs*, waltzing in space; the glitter of restless candles of deep red, green and yellow; around them, men and women dressed in red, some holding fruit baskets of contrasting colours, indicating the joy and grief of Haji Firouz. In ancient Iranian culture, Haji Firouz is both joyful and woeful. His black face reminds us of the death of Siayvash, and his red attire is the symbol of his blood; while his tambourine and joyful songs are the annunciations of spring, regeneration and the rebirth of nature.

The new Haji Firouzes of Nasrollahi are more abstract and represent the coming and going of light: the descent of light in the darkness and the heart-rending sorrow of the third-millennium Haji Firouzes; and the ascent of light together with the flight of abstract Haji Firouz in the pellucid blue associated with this ideal in the Iranian world view, the light, perfection and freedom that will eventually gain victory, even though the face of the Haji Firouzes are black and smoke-coated. The tambourine and Daf are symbols of this temporal world which shall not be assumed grandiose. One will be simple and live innocently. One will be happy and reborn by the spring. The sorrow of descent and the darkness of the time shall be buried at the bottom of a deep hole since spring is coming with Haji Firouzes dancing in the infinite space and these eternal ancient figures will make the candles dance with the spring rhythm. The flower, plant, and spring are concordant and are waiting for your accordant breath.

Nasrollahi has surpassed himself with his two decades of Haji Firouzes. He has left the figurative wild and eye-catching Haji Firouzes and now delivers more abstract and mature ones. The colours are now more moderate and stiffer than the deep and wild colours of the first decade since they have lived and grown in the depth of the artist’s mind. And the last word is that the artist himself has turned into a Haji Firouz of the third millennium. For a long time he has been calling up the happiness and grief of our millennium with his colourful tambourines and Dafs.

Abolghasem Esmaeilpour

*A musical instrument, larger than a tambourine.

Ahmad Nasrollahi is one of Iran’s most influential painters. His work has been exhibited and sold internationally. His work is innovative in technique and content. Subtly drawing Iranian legends, archetypes, and ancient visual motifs into contemporary life, Nasrollahi’s work is often concerned with profound psychological questions. The role of tradition in identity formation, the borders between the material and the spiritual, and the mixing of belief and logic have consistently figured out as themes in his paintings.

Nasrollahi considers himself a self-taught painter. He cannot, however, be classified ‘naïve’ or ‘primitive’. From early on he enjoyed the friendship and guidance of some of Iran’s best artists, and his work found its place among reputable collections. But perhaps his upbringing as a peasant, his profession as a school teacher, and his mistrust of the academic approach to painting have equipped him with the type of courage that is usually associated with ‘primitive’ painters. The difference is that unlike the ‘naïve’ tendency to remain satisfied with a small and hard-won set of technical solutions, Nasrollahi has always shown a willingness to discard his old solutions for new ones. Still, somehow, his personal style remains recognisable through this wild experimentation.” The Guardian

Artist Bio

Ahmad Nasrollahi was born in 1951 in Babol, Iran. He started painting empirically in 1966 and then in 1977 he enjoyed the experiences of artists such as Ali Akbar Safaian, Bahram Alivandi, etc. Since then, he took over the management of the Blue Gallery of Babol.

His first group exhibition was held at Sari Youth House in 1971 and his first solo exhibition was held at the Blue Gallery in 1977. Since then, it has been held more than 100 solo and group exhibitions inside and outside Iran. Among these, there could be mentioned his solo exhibitions in different cities of Iran, especially in the Blue Gallery in Babol and Seyhoun Gallery in Tehran during consecutive years, Tehran Peace Museum (Receiving the dove of Peace, 2013), Isfahan Museum of Contemporary Art (2003) and … and outside Iran, solo exhibitions of the artist in View Gallery, Shanghai, China (2005), Cultural Centre of Chekhov, Moscow, Russia (2014), Ladder Art Space Gallery, Melbourne, Australia (2018).

He has participated in exhibitions such as the First Biennial of Iranian Painting, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (1991), the First International Drawing Exhibition, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (1999), the Fifth Biennial of Iranian Painting, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (2000). The second Biennial of Contemporary Painting in the Islamic World, Iranian Academy of Arts and receiving a Certificate of Appreciation (2002), The third Painting Biennial of the Islamic World, Iranian Academy of Arts, and receiving a Plaque of Honor (2004), and numerous exhibitions at DD Art and Cultural Center, including a Group Exhibition of Photography, Painting, Sculpture(2017), Drawing Exhibition of Several Generations of Iranian artists, “Drawing and Gavel” in Drawing Museum, Tehran (2018),  and also International exhibitions in Italy (Florence 1993, Venice 1998, Genova 2015); France (Paris 1997); China (Beijing 1997 and 2006); United Arab Emirates )The 4th Sharjah Biennial 1999(; England (Oldham Gallery 2000, Leighton House, London 2001); Switzerland( Zurich 2004); Belarus(Minsk 2009); India (Samanvai Art Gallery Jaipur 2018, Stainless Gallery New Delhi 2019).

Nasrollahi has other activities in his resume such as teaching painting to children and teenagers from 1977 to 2017, leading the Free Painters Group in Babol 1977-1983, teacher of the Ministry of Education 1974-2002, judging the First Festival of Sand Sculptures Festival of Babolsar (2005), one of the three-member selection committee of the First Drawing Festival of Sandoozi Museum (2007), judging the First Festival of Sand Sculptures Festival of Babolsar (2005), honorary membership of the Iranian Painters Association since 2007, secretary of the Fifth Festival of Self-Taught Artists in the village of Darikandeh (2018).