In choosing to ignore the rules of calligraphy,Baltimore-based artist Hadieh Shafie creates works that foreground process, repetition, and time. To create her scroll pieces, Shafie marks thousands of strips of paper with handwritten and printed Farsi texts and then rolls them in concentric circles, concealing or revealing different elements of the texts. The concentric forms of both text and paper echo the dance of the whirling dervishes. In 2011, Shafie was short-listed for the Jameel prize, which is given by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK to artists who present traditional Islamic art and architecture in a contemporary way.
A constant element of my work is the significance of repetition, process and time. In works comprised of paper scrolls, individual strips of paper have been marked with the word “eshghe,” both hand-written and printed in Farsi. While the most direct translation of “eshghe” to English is “love” its expressive power is “passion.” I chose this word because it encompasses my longing and search for acceptance and understanding. The repetition of text, in particular the word “eshghe,” is a recurring element in much of my work of the last decade. Using concentric forms of text and material I seek to magnify its meaning.
Writing by hand on strips of paper, I repeat what is printed, filling in gaps to emphasize a particular, existing form. For each work I decide on a limited color palette. As I roll the paper the colors on the edges of the strips align, creating bands of alternating hue that stand along side one another, while at once, seeming to merge into new color formations which are often delightful surprises. I may decide to repeat the color sequence but I try to encourage myself to let go so new combinations may arise. Placing each scroll side by side, I make decisions about color and composition at every step of the work and so the process of making progresses much like a painting or drawing. What interests me is the tension between control and spontaneity that emerges at every step. During the repetitive process of adding paper strips to create individual scrolls, text and symbols are hidden within these concentric rings of material as the scroll grows outward. There are compositions of printed and handwritten text sealed in the work that sometimes I wish I could see again, that are now relinquished to the eternal turning within the work.
Early in life I had the opportunity to see the dance of the whirling dervishes. This experience had a profound influence on me and so the concentric forms of text and material take inspiration from the Sama dance of the whirling dervishes with the resulting work as the physical expression of my awe.