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MONIR FARMANFARMAIAN: HEJLEH, August 2013    Aug 14 - Aug 30, 2013

Hejleh, The Eight
Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian
Hejleh, The Eight, 2005
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Hejleh is bridal chamber, a room prepared and decorated by the family of the bride and groom with colorful glass, mirror, and textile for the newly-wed to spend their first night [1] in. It has its own place in the Iranian lore and can be found in such classic works as Ferdowsi's epic Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings," c. 1000 AD) and Nezami Ganjavi's Khosrow o Shirin ("Khosrow and Shirin," c. 1177 AD). It also appears in many miniature paintings of scenes of festivity and merriment.

Such chambers are still used in the Iranian plateau for wedding ceremonies; however, beginning with the Safavid era (1501-1722) and especially after the reign of the Qajar king Nasir al-Din Shah (1848-1896), it became customary to commemorate the young martyrs of Karbala [2] by constructing small-scale, hexagonal or octagonal, structures that resembled hejleh -- supposedly lamenting the fact that the young martyr was never able to see his bridal chamber.

Today, hejlehs are erected when a young person passes away unexpectedly. These elaborate shrine-like constructs can be seen standing outside a house where mourning ceremonies for the death of a young man [3] is convened. Passers by will immediately realize that a tragedy, whether in an accident or in battlefield, has befallen and they are invited to commiserate with the family of the young person.

Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian's hejleh is an emotional response as well as a commemorative piece dedicated to those whom the artist feels indebted to. Among them are painters Hossein Qollar Aghasi and Mohammad Modabber, poets Sohrab Sepehri, Forough Farrokhzad, Nima Yushi, and Mehdi Akhavan Salles, the artist's long time companion and late husband Abolbashar Farmanfarmaian, and a physician kin, Sabar Farmanfarmaian, who brought modern medicine to Iran.

With all its beauty and peace, Monir Shahroudi Farmanfarmaian's hejleh uses a public art practice, with its long-standing history and its dynamic regime of meaning, to picture her conception of paradise.

[1] The first night has been valorized as "shab-e zafaf" and carries its own symbolic significance.

[2] Karbala is the site of the legendary 7th century battle between the forces of good led by Imam Hussein, the grandson of prophet Mohammad, and the army of evil led by Yazid, the Umayyad caliph, which resulted in the martyrdom of Imam and his companions and family. Aliakbar and Aliasqar are the teenagers that died in the battle. They are remembered by Shia Muslims with particular angst during the ceremonies of Ashura.

[3] In recent years instances of hejleh being erected for young women have also been seen.

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