Abbas Akbari


What is this high simple colorful roof? Nobody has a way to its secret.

There exist some signs among the variety of motifs in pottery artworks and remains of prehistory Iran that indicate Iranians were interested in the “sky”. The remains found in Sialk, Gian Hill, Shush, Bakon Hill are just few examples. In spite of some visual developments after Islam, “sky” has continued to reflect itself even in contemporary modern works. The most noticeable of these is an abstract form of sun face known as LadySun in pottery works. This form is pre-historic. Presence of such heavenly bodies is not limited to pottery. It is integrated with other aspects of culture. In Iranian mythology, Fereydoon is a mythical king who looked at the stars. Keikhosro, another mythical king, looked at a globe known as Jame-e-Jam (a symbolic globe that shows the universe) to observe the heavenly bodies. Ferdowsi believed Jam-e-Jame is a symbolic globe:
It informs the king about all that exist; the turning Sun and the bright Moon.
There are some more indications in Iranian mythology. After a long battle in the fields, Keikavoos is another Iranian king who decided to fly to the skies on a coach carried by four giant eagles to explore the globe and the skies. Fredowsi tells this story in his epic;
There is one great work to attach your name to eternity
What is the secret about the sunrise and sunset?
What is this moon? What is behind the mystery of days and nights?
Studying prehistoric traditions and beliefs, we can easily see the significance of “sky” in Iranian culture. Among them, Mitraism is the most known tradition wherein the sun is born with a globe in her hand. This is why it appears as the godess of time. In Zoroatrianism, one belief is that there is a connection between spirituality and the universe. In some sayings of Zoroaster, there is a clear indication of such connection,” I ask you Ahura! Tell me who takes care of the Earth (down here) and the skies (up there)?”
Even in Islam due attention is paid to the skies and heavenly bodies. There is a Surah (chapter) in Quran named “The Sun”. God swears to The Sun, “(swear) to The Sun and its rise and (swear) to The Moon that comes after the bright Sun. And (swear) to the day when the world becomes bright and (swear) to the night when it gets dark and (swear) to the high sky and he who has erected it.
Such indications may be found across civilizations, beliefs, traditions, and cultures. Man’s respect for the universe and the world is not rooted just in religion. Astronomy as a branch of science, even in its early stages, could help man better understand the world. All nations have contributed to our understanding of the world in the course of centuries. Astronomy allows us to see how vast the universe is. Using modern technologies, man has been able to extend his knowledge of the universe on a very regular basis. The more we learn about the universe, the more questions arise. Probably we may never reveal the hidden secrets of the universe. Hafez, the great Iranian poet says,
What is this high simple colorful roof? Nobody has a way to its secret.
Such stanzas show how little we know about unknown things in the universe. Also, they provide a way to express the awe we feel by the vastness of the universe how weak and fragile man is compared with the vastness of the universe. Khayyam says,
We are toys and the world is the player.
This is literally true not figuratively.
Religious beliefs, scientific knowledge, and artistic expressions are all ways to understand and interpret the universe. Poets, painters, sculptors, photographers and other artists have created lots of works about the universe. They have all tried to use the possibilities in their medium of expression to express their understanding the whole universe. In spite of the limitations in any medium, great artists have been able to show the depth and complexity of the universe in their work. This may not be as easily achieved by scientists, if ever.
To me, creation of artworks is a logical way to express my thoughts and feelings as developed in the course of ten years living under the blue skies of Kashan. Among different materials, I chose pottery for my experience with creation of statues. Also, wheel pottery with its turning wheel is symbolically very similar to the universe orbiting around a circle. On the other hand, ceramic could lend itself to reduced glaze application. Moreover, unique visual characteristic of ceramic better suited the subject of the works. Actually, the idea of producing all these works started with an inspiration I got by making a small globe with a turquoise blue reduced glaze which symbolically represented the sky to me. I took the idea further and extended my small globe to the vast globe up there in the skies. I made several slanting clay vessels and glazed them with special reduced glaze. The result was like a piece of heavenly body that represented the turning skies and heavenly bodies. These statues are all pottery works made in the tradition of using clay in pottery rather than statues made of clay. Basically, they are pottery works not sculpture. This is why these works seem to serve a dual function; practical and visual though the visual function dominates the practical one. Even the slanting vessels are not functional anymore. another reason I produced the works as ceramic is the long history of using heavenly forms and shapes in Kashan ceramic tradition. Even the reduced glaze used is rooted in its use in the long history of Kashan pottery not just for its visual advantages. This could also help revitalization of pottery and ceramic in Kashan which is sadly a forgotten and dead art during the last decades. The names I chose for these artworks also reflect different names in Kashan, a reminder of the importance of Kashan in ceramics and pottery though naming may play a visual role for any piece of art work. It is not just a name decided on the basis of its literal meaning.
A proverb in Farsi says, “no matter where you go the sky is of the same color.” Apparently, the proverb justifies why we may stay in a certain geographical location rather than moving to other places. I do not really think this is the case. The sky differs from one place to another. For me it is the sky of the place that attracts me rather than its soil. The sky is different in different regions. I know different moons as there are different suns. After a decade living and working in Kashan I find its sky more interesting than its soil.
Jame-e-Jam is Jam-e-Jam. It is the globe Keikhosroo looked into. Jam-e-Jam is made of soil but not about soil. It is for the sky. In Jam-e-Jam the sky is not in the sky. The sky is on the ground. Sky color is different from one place to another. In Niasar, the sky is a vastness of turquoise –blue, in Golestaneh it is depth of blue, in Qohrood it is a vastness of bright blue and in Kashan it is the color of a dream.

Abbas Akbari
Spring 1391

Creation of dreams

Abbas Akbari is a sculptor who writes poetry by using cheap clay. He ignites imagination and draws our attention to soil, water, fire, wind, the skies, and the galaxies. In his workshop, he is like Khayyam the poet and the astronomer who says;
He who subtly wrought me into shape
Should stamp me back to common soil again
Abbas Akabari makes use of the four elements and creates a world similar to what Khayyam created in his poetry. He manipulates the turning universe and the world. In his works, he tries to look back at the art history of old Persia. In one of his collections “Reading Archaic Texts” the cuneiforms he used were similar to the Achaemenids arrows and daggers. They were the building blocks of this collection. Some of these large scale works are installed near the entrance of Museum of Ancient Iran.
Philosophy of existence and legacy of his ancestors destined him to work with clay. During the last twenty years, he has continued to work within the mainstream traditional Iranian arts. His previous collection, "the Fish in Attarha's House" which included hundreds of hanging fish helped him realize his dreams which depended on the stars and the sunrise and sunset hanging up there among heavenly bodies.
His trips to different corners of Iran and his engagement with research and teaching in Kashan with its popular blue tiles led him to pottery and ceramics which has continued up to now with no sign of abating. His focus on studying and learning more about making clay, working with clay, and using different techniques of firing helped him develop deeper understanding of the whole processes of pottery. He tried to uncover the mystery of Zrrinfam glaze, a very popular luster glaze in Kashan pottery tradition.
There exist different techniques of making luster. One such technique is clay paste which is controversially associated with different countries such as Iran, Iraq, and Egypt as its country of origin. Some claim it was innovated by Iranian potters and alchemists who could not turn cupper to gold instead they changed cheap clay to a rainbow of shining colors including gold. Masterpieces of Zarrinfam earthenware was found in Kashan, Gorgan, Ray, and some other cities. Some of these pieces are displayed in International museums such as Victoria Albert in London. There is an invalueable collection of Zarrinfam earthenware of Gorgan (known as Jorjan by Arabs). Oliver Watson, Richard Etinghauzen and other experts have emphasized the significance of Zarrinfam earthenware of Iran.
It is worth noting that the oldest artworks in Iran were made of clay pottery. Tools, houses, castles, and even cities were made of clay. Clay abounds in different colors all over Iran. The first paintings in Iran appeared on pottery vessels. The first Iranian alphabet also appeared in clay. Sadly, we cannot read them today.
Iranians used colorful bricks and tiles and mastered the art of architecture. By using color and lines, they turn the still lifeless walls into vibrant orchestrate. Iranians were masters of pottery and tile making. Among several Iranian cities such as Kashan, Ray, Saveh and other cities, Kashan has always been in the forefront. The creative potters of Kashan with 8000 of history in their background had great influence on the potters in neighboring cities and areas; Tisfoon, Gorgan, Ray, and farther cities such as Baghdad, Cairo, Qirvan in Tunisia, and cities in Spain. This can be clearly observed in Mihrabs of mosques in these cities. Fortunately, Pottery and ceramics is taught in Kashan and its academic centers. Abbas Akbari plays an important role in teaching and practicing them in one of these centers in Kashan. Iranian alchemists were among the first group of Middle East scholars who studies chemistry. They named the discipline that is known as chemistry all over the world today. They discovered and introduced many chemical substances such as alcohol, sulfuric acid, formic acid, and a number of many more chemicals to the scientific community of the time.
Potters like alchemists discovered new techniques for glazing and painting on pottery. Their work is still difficult to imitate and copy. This is in spite of all the developments in tools and new chemical materials that enable precise control and measurement of temperature. With all these new facilities and equipments reproducing the old shining surfaces has not been achieved yet. Iranian potters could produce Zarrinfam vessels 900 years ago by using cheap soil, cupper nitrate, silver nitrate, water, fire, and wind.
Luster glaze pottery is very popular in the modern world. All over the world, in different continents there are artists who are using their skill, innovation, and creativity and develop their own experience. They use a variety of options by considering the material, techniques, and instruments, with different results.
In an exhibition in 2012 in Switzerland –Reflection- 17 ceramists from different countries- England, Spain, Switzerland, Iran, France, Australia, France, Hungary, Iraq, Eygpt, Turkey, Japan, and India displayed their works. Abbas Akbari's work was solid and unique. Control over the form of objects and vessels, the type of glaze used, and the mysterious mythical colors were the main features of his works. Key factors in luster statues include the type of glaze used, duration of firing, experience of the ceramist, and the most important of all chance. Multiple firing in luster glaze and opening the kiln to see the results is the most exciting moment to the long process. The artist uses the pottery wheel-invented thousands of years ago by Iranians- or his hands or a mold to shape the work. After the work dries, it is fired and turned into biscuit. This is followed by glazing and one more firing. Finally for luster glazing, clay paste technique is used to cover it with silver nitrate and cupper nitrate which is fired at a temperature lower than reduction temperature for the last time. All these processes may differ from one artist to another in terms of the type of glaze, the clay used, reduction technique, and firing temperature.
Abbas Akbari makes use of electric kiln, gas kiln, and wood kiln in his works. The wood kiln is used for reduction which produce more metallic surface of the final work. Wood can be controlled by half-burn in certain temperature and make smoke which releases some nitrate in the glaze leading to the metallic surface of the work. In luster glaze, clay paste is preferred because it is more exciting for the artist. After taking the works out of the kiln, the soot that covers the works is cleaned and the artist can see the metallic surface of the final work. There is no guarantee the final work is what expected. This first port resembles Alla-Din Light”. The colors obtained on the surface of the works are the results of reduction in metals. They reflect different lights when glazed. They form a rainbow. They are gold, silver, dark blue and sky blue which all add to the fantasy of the pottery. As France Hamoos states they are like butterfly wings and fairies, like the reflection of colors and lights when oil is poured over the surface of water.
Producing pottery works with Zarrinfam glaze is a complex and sensitive process which calls for a lot of care, experience, time, and money with results that are not predictable. I have seen Abbas Akbari working hard to produce ideal pieces. At times he works round the clock to get what he wants. He is difficult to satisfy. He throws any piece he doesn't like, though no defects can be found by the layman eyes. He gives pieces of his works for free to others.
I have some pieces of his work here with me in this part of the world in my studio. Greg Dolly sees them like angels of light. They empower me with the yellow green blue color, familiar motives and smiling faces. With the reflection of sun light form my studio window a shining light of the pieces is beyond imagination. A piece made of the dark brown soil of Kashan brings so much light to my studio and I forget the scenery of the deep sea in front of my studio. Abbas Akbari can be the pioneer among potters and ceramists who are trying to revive Iran pottery after Safavid Dynasty and bring it to the forefront of modern art and international museums such as Victoria Albert Museum and Metropolitan Museum.

Hadi Hazave-ee, Ph.D.
New York, 2012