The Garden of Mystery


An exhibition of works by Taha Afshar, Monir Farmanfarmaian, and Y.Z. Kami.

Celebrating the 700th  anniversary of the Garden of Mystery, (Gulshan-i Raz) by M. Shabistari, one of the greatest works of Sufi poetry.

 Wednesday 22nd November – December 1st 2017

Asia House, 63 New Cavendish St, London W1G 7LP

Hours: 10am and 6pm, Monday to Friday (closed on weekends). Entry if free.

PREVIEW OPENING RECEPTION : Tuesday 21st November, 6 – 8 pm.

Book here.

PANEL DISCUSSION : Tuesday 28th November, 6:30 pm  for 6:45 pm start followed by reception.

The Garden of Mystery, 700th anniversary and the influence of Sufism in contemporary visual arts.

Book tickets here.

Introduced by: Mariam Neza, Curator of Arts and Learning, Asia House.

Dr Ladan Akbarnia, Curator (Assistant Keeper), Islamic Collections, British Museum

Dr Sussan Babaie, Andrew W. Mellon Reader in the Arts of Iran and Islam, The Courthauld Institute of Art.

Dr Leonard Lewisohn, Senior Lecturer, Iran Heritage Foundation Fellow in Sufi Literature, Exeter University

Dr Taha Afshar, Exhibiting Artist.

To celebrate the 700th anniversary, of the Garden of Mystery, (Gulshan-i Raz) by M. Shabistari, there will be an exhibition of contemporary artworks by Taha Afshar, Y.Z. Kami and Monir Farmanfarmaian at Asia House. The works on display differ in styles and execution but share a connection and resonance with core themes within Sufi literature and practice.

The Garden of Mystery is now considered to be one of the greatest classical Persian works of the Islamic mystical tradition known in the west as Sufism. From the opening verse, the poet delves straight into recurring themes of the poetry: the heart, soul, contemplation and illumination.

The spiritual themes presented in this poetry mirror ideas explored by not only Renaissance masters, but also the Romantics, several Modernists and a selection of post-war and contemporary western and eastern artists.  For example, if you take a work like “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” by Kandinsky you can see how important redefining painting’s role in exploring man’s inner spiritual struggle was for his vision for Modern art. In this context, Shabistari’s work provides another lens and framework to capture man’s journey, relationship with his heart and the cosmos.

Monir Farmanfarmaian (b. 1924) was the subject of a major career retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2015. Her work relies on mirrors to reflect and redirect light, as is done to embellish shrines to elevate the sanctity of holy spaces. Whilst decoratively complex, the use of geometric patterns and tessellations points to a far deeper conceptual agenda. The proliferation of arabesque abstract decoration enhances a quality that could only be attributed to God, namely, the doctrine of tawhid, or Divine Unity. Farmanfarmaian’s work not only relates to the tradition of Sufi literature by means of the aesthetic references to decorate architectural motifs associated with Sufism, but also conceptually through its play with light. The mirror of the heart is referred to by Shabistari and other Sufi authors as a metaphor.

Y.Z. Kami (b. 1956) is an Iranian born American painter based in New York. Kami is known for referencing core concepts of different religious faiths and philosophies in his artworks. Though the subjects in his oeuvre span from painted portraits and devotional subject matter to abstract domes and architectural elements, the artist continually returns to themes of introspection, subjectivity and contemplation. There will be both figurative work and paintings from his Dome series. The connection is through the meditative experience and expression of light.

Taha Afshar’s (b. 1983) work continues this discourse through two sets of paintings, one of which is exhibited. The set of abstract paintings landscape are exploring other themes discussed by Shabistari. The intention and purpose of the set of paintings is to explore the light within the human heart and soul.  The basic concept is that in all paintings there is a yellow source of light. All the other colours and lines serve to support that light, which is attempting to capture and symbolize the light within the heart. The landscape as a backdrop is a metaphor. These are internal landscapes. Therefore, like a reflection of the artist’s own heart, whilst working on the physical canvas, the source of light is to the bottom left of the canvas; mirroring the left central ventricle where the heart rests. The sun here is not literally the sun, but a source of light – both material and spiritual.


View press release here:The Garden of Mystery release .