Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian was an Iranian artist and collects traditional folk art.
She has been noted as one of the most prominent Iranian artists of the contemporary period, and she is the first artist to achieve an artistic practice that weds the geometric patterns and cut-glass mosaic techniques of her Iranian heritage with the rhythms of modern Western geometric abstraction. In 2017, the Monir Museum in Tehran, Iran was opened in her honor.
Shahroudy was born on December 18, 1922, to educate parents in the religious town of Qazvin in north-western Iran. Farmanfarmaian acquired artistic skills early in childhood, receiving drawing lessons from a tutor and studying postcard depictions of western art. After studying at the University of Tehran at the Faculty of Fine Art in 1944, she then moved to New York via steamer boat, when World War II derailed plans to study art in Paris, France. In New York, she studied at Cornell University, at Parsons The New School for Design, where she majored in fashion illustration, and at the Art Students League.
As a fashion illustrator, she held various freelance jobs, working with magazines such as Glamour before being hired by the Bonwit Teller department store, where she made the acquaintance of a young Andy Warhol. Additionally, she learned more about art through her trips to museums and through her exposure to the Eighth Street Club and New York’s avant-garde art scene, becoming friends with artists and contemporaries Louise Nevelson, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Joan Mitchell.
In early 1957, Farmanfarmaian moved back to Iran. Inspired by the residing culture, she discovered “a fascination with tribal and folk artistic tradition” of her country’s history, which “led her to rethink the past and conceive a new path for her art.” In the following years, she would further develop her Persian inspiration by crafting mirror mosaics and abstract monotypes, featuring her work at the Iran Pavilion in the 1958 Venice Biennale, and holding a number of exhibitions in places such as Tehran University (1963), the Iran-America Society (1973), and the Jacques Kaplan/Mario Ravagnan Gallery (1974).
In 1979, Farmanfarmaian traveled to New York. Around the same time, the Islamic Revolution began, and so the Farmanfarmaians found themselves exiled from Iran, an exile that would last for over twenty years. Farmanfarmaian attempted to reconcile her mirror mosaics with the limited resources offered in America, but such lacking materials and comparatively inexperienced workers restricted her work. In the meantime, she placed a larger emphasis on her other aspects of art, such as commissions, textile designs, and drawing.
In 1992, Farmanfarmaian returned to Iran and later, in Tehran in 2004, she reaffirmed her place among Iran’s art community, gathering both former and new employees to help create her mosaics. As of 2014, she continued to live and work in Tehran until her death. On 20 April 2019, she died in her house at the age of 96.