Abbas Akbari

An Oriental Devotion

"But later l thought I would ignore his wishes if l left the work unfinished. This accident regained my energy to go on with new motivation."

About An Oriental Devotion

A substantial part of artworks has undoubtedly been made as a result of religious motives or the orders in this respect. Although such works are available in most civilizations, Oriental spiritual works of art should be considered form a different point of view at least for the reason that the motives for producing these works in the Orient are mostly based upon artist`s inner intentions and believes rather than orders made by institutions. Examples of such works abound in Iranian history and culture, especially in the Islamic period. I should confess that working in this field didn`t generate the required motivation for me at first as it does now. According to my personal interest and field of study, I`ve chosen another subject from Iran`s history and art in order to show my personal interpretation of a historical heritage and the way to deal with which in the contemporary art. Therefore I decided to work on the mihrab (prayer niche) of Masjid-i ʿImād ad-Dīn at Maidān-i Sang in Kashan.
I first went to Kashan 15 years ago to teach in its university. I occasionally went to see the important historic works of the city in my leisure. It was in that time I felt for the first time the absence of the luster glazed mihrab of Maidān-i Sang Mosque whose good reputation has been recorded in many texts and references. Some years later I travelled with my good friend and fellow, Mohammad Hossein Rahmati, to Europe to visit the great art museums. It was in Pergamon Museum of Berlin where the mihrab of Masjid-i ʿImād ad-Dīn at Maidān-i Sang was exhibited in a salon. On the one hand I was sad to see this piece of art outside my country, but on the other hand happy to see it having been kept in good condition where many ones could visit the location.
Then we left the museum. My friend, Mohammad Hossein, said: «It was really good if you made a model of this mihrab». Although I was able do it in that time, I felt the work would be more than a mere model or copy. Therefore I waited for 10 years so that this work could find its correct position through my reevaluations and studies in the Iranian culture and art. I started the work by modeling it in different samples. I was at the beginning of the work when my brother, Reza, who was a religious person with spiritual ideals, died unexpectedly. He was interested in helping me to make the work. I lost all my motivation for continuing the job. But later l thought I would ignore his wishes if l left the work unfinished. This accident regained my energy to go on with new motivation. I was almost completing the work while I received invitations from international symposiums of sculpture and ceramics among which the one from The International Symposium of Ceramics, Tunisia. I, beyond doubt, accepted and travelled to the north of Africa, Carthage, Tunisia. Before going there, I asked the authorities of the symposium to prepare the situation for me to take a visit to Kairouan and see lustre tiles in mihrab of the Great Mosque of Kairouan. They accepted my request and did what I wanted. I will never forget that favor. These tiles go back to about 1200 years ago and belong to the first lustre earthen mihrab in the world. Although other parts of the mihrab are made from other materials, the most important part is in fact the mentioned tiles. It was important for me to see the work at close range, because the printed images could not have shown their original metallic reflection. I recorded this quality in the photos I took. Unlike the mihrab of Masjid-i ʿImād ad-Dīn at Maidān-i Sang in Kashan, the one in Kairouan has independent tiles in small sizes that I had inspired from in making the copy of Maidān-i Sang and also the new metallic tiles of the work. Therefore, An Oriental Devotion is not just a replicate of an old work of art from Iran, because it is principally impossible to make accurate copies of ancient lustre potteries. By the way, I wasn`t looking for such a purpose. But I hoped I could put one of the copies of the work in its main location in the vacant place. Indeed, what I`m looking for in this work is to introduce some hidden aspects of Islamic art, especially the Islamic-Iranian art. Therefore, knowing the attitudes of past artists toward this technique is much more important than scientific and technical knowledge of the work.
There are significant differences between these two works from view point of technique and also patterns, motifs, etc. But there is something in both of them which can be displayed in the correct direction in the realm of contemporary art. I regard this quality as a kind of inner light (illumination)! In past art, especially the Islamic art and its great works, material goes beyond its limits and becomes detached from its materialistic characteristics. This quality is most evident in Islamic pottery, particularly lustre works. Here soil transforms into light to show that how artists in the past open a door before you where you can understand how to encounter artistic traditions and ancient heritage in order to face with the contemporary art.
Ceramic in An Oriental Devotion collection is accompanied by iron and bronze. Although the metallic layers of ceramic surfaces are very thin, they look more evident and noticeable than those of metal objects. Hence they demonstrate that in art of the past and Iran`s art in particular, how the material used is refined and how it becomes detached from its physical characteristics. This collection aims at providing evidence to show how we can create a new modern-day identity from the old past one by removing mere formalistic features (motifs, writings, etc.) and realizing the more important hidden elements of ancient art.
I`ve taken two forms of the word «mihrab» into consideration while making these works: first, mihrab from Arabic, meaning «the field of harb» («battlefield») with Satan or evil-prompting self (devilish ego); second, mihrab from Persian, derived from «mehrābe», the equivalent for Mithraism (The worship of Mithra, the Iranian god of the sun, justice, contract, and war in pre-Zoroastrian Iran). I`m not looking for the root of the word «mihrab» in Arabic. I don`t believe that mihrab is a place or field to fight with somebody or something. Mihrab (in its both forms mentioned above) for me is a place for seclusion and worship. We don`t become fighters or warlike beings in mihrab, but we become lovers!
Here, there are some people who did me a great service in compiling this collection and writing something about the work from their own points if view, including Professor Markus Ritter from Austria, Arturo Mora from Spain, John Kuczwal from Australia, Mohamed Hachicha from Tunisia. Here I should express my gratitude for their generous support.
But the entire project could not be done without the financial support of Masoud Lotfi in printing and publishing it for free. I consider this support mostly a spiritual one rather than just affording costs. He has been so generous to Iran`s culture and art in this regard. I`m truly thankful to him too.

Abbas Akbari
Kashan, September 2015

In search of light

To think of following a tradition as a static ideal is to misunderstand its true nature. A single example is a distillation of prior work and influences from other art forms.
As artisans we have an obligation to study past work and as artists we have an obligation to interpret and extend the scope of that tradition and spirit for it to remain fresh. Like a river, a living tradition must continue to flow otherwise it will stagnate. And like a river, it will at times proceed slowly, meandering or spreading widely, at other times quicken and flow deeply.
One of the world’s great ceramic traditions is lustre ceramics. A discovery of the Islamic world, it reached a high point in ancient Kashan in what is now modern day Iran with the inspired combination of calligraphy and lustre on tiles.
Abbas has studied the makers of lustre of ancient Kashan and by personal research and experimentation in such diverse fields as stone paste formulation, glaze and pigment recipes and firing technology, has come to understand how truly remarkable these lustre potters have been.
Abbas is one of the few potters in the world that could attempt such an ambitious project as to replicate the facade of the Mihrab of the Meydan Mosque (the original of which is now in the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin). These embossed lustre tiles with Kufic inscriptions are a harmonious integration of form, surface lustre painting and content, communication its message as well as its aesthetic presence. One can only imagine its original impact.
Lustre is at its best when seen in the half-light of a flickering light of a candle or a lamp. It is then when the connection between lustre and light is most evident and at its most powerful. The refracted light though the nano layers of metal in the glaze creates its shine and iridescence, producing the colours of the rainbow.
On an aesthetic level, this inner light of lustre ,every changing with a change in viewpoint, and appearing to move in the flickering half light, invites contemplation of the real and metaphysical worlds.

John Kuczwal
Lustre Potter
Wollongong NSW Australia
September, 2015

An Old Persian Technique and Its New Shape

Some time ago I discovered some gold luster pottery from Persia (Iran), the ancient city of Kashan. No one from antiquity has been much producing wonderful ceramics, until I met Abbas who performs this job with great artistic talent and technical ability. I saw some of his works on websites and checked the quality of the ceramics. I am lucky enough to have them in my private collection.
One of his exceptional last works is the reproduction of the Mihrab that is in Pergamon Museum of Berlin now, a very complicated job that has been fulfilled masterfully. I`ve followed it step by step photographically.
They are very interesting innovations bringing to the luster technique with new shapes and decorations of great originality.
I feel much identified with the potter, and we are the last craftsmen who follow the ancient tradition of golden earthenware, although each in their city and with one`s own style.

Arturo Mora
Manises, Spain
August 2015

The light of the soul

Abbas Akbari, the Iranian contemporary artist, is looking unceasingly and with such enthusiasm in the crypt of the ceramic world and its deep history. He›s the owner of a treasure›s knowledge and a large professional experience on luster glazes techniques. This unlimited world of Persian civilization since past centuries, has several influence field specially the ceramic domain which covers not only the Orient Land but reach also Ifriqia and Arabic world. And maybe the Mehrab of Oqba Ibn Nafaa mosque is one of the most important proof of this heritage as it is the main decorated Mehrab with luster glazes tiles imported from Iraq to Kairouan that Abbas discovered at his last visit to Tunisia. He seems like he was illuminating his way of researchers by the shiny gold luster glaze when he observed them passionately with a specialist eye of an alchemist wrapped in the mysterious world of materials chemistry and their transformation by the magic of fire. He, first, tried to understand and spell out the history codes written on those tiles by the ancestors and then he used it to make his own personal practice between sculptures and installations opened both on, one hand, a shared universal history and extent of Iranian civilization and, on the other hand, on an actual art reveled by the light of luster from its origins with double dimensions artistic and spiritual which take all those who observe his art to the light of the soul.

Mohamed Hachicha
Director of the National Center of Ceramic Art
Sep 2015