Hossein Valamanesh, an Iranian-born and Australian-based artist whose poetic works commented on the struggles of immigrants, died last weekend at the age of 72 from a heart attack, according to a statement from the Australian Council of visual arts.
Mikala Tai, head of visual arts for the council, said: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of such an important artist and mentor to the Australian visual arts community. We will sorely miss her gentle and generous nature, who anchored and guided the artistic community. We have no doubt that the work de Hossein will continue to inspire audiences long into the future and that his kindness will be long remembered.
Valamanesh was born in Tehran in 1949. He studied fine art in his hometown before moving to Australia in 1973 to attend the South Australia School of Art. He was inspired by Arte Povera, an Italian art movement that began in the mid-1960s and encouraged artists to use freely available materials. Sticks, sand, dirt, leaves and stones found near his workshop were often used in his work. Household objects often found in his home country of Iran, such as rugs, oil lamps and slippers, have also been used in his work on the immigrant experience. Valamanesh’s work commented on the pain and complexity of his own migration from Iran to Australia, and invoked a kind of transcendent, placeless spirituality that stemmed from his engagement with Sufism and Buddhism as well as his love of nature.
desire, belonging (1997), one of his most famous works, is a performance, sculpture and photography that perhaps best embodies his work on the immigrant experience. He traveled to outback Australia with the mat, built a small pyre in its center and set it on fire. The carpet survived, but with a blackened hole where the fire was lit. The remains of the piece, together with photographs of the performance, are currently held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Much of Valamanesh’s work employed repetitive movements. His sculpture Love encircles its own heart (1993) involved a funnel-shaped suspended piece of fabric that was suspended and rotated so that it unfurled in the shape of a whirling dervish skirt. His video Passing time (2011) depicts the artist doing a figure eight movement with his fingers. The play of the number eight symbol and the looping video associated with the artist’s aged hands testify to the seemingly endless quality of a life that will end. This work is one of many collaborations he has done with his son Nassiem, filmmaker and videographer.
Valamanesh also frequently collaborated with his wife Angela to create public artwork. Together they worked on a memorial to the Great Irish Famine titled An Gorta Mor (1999), as well as 14 pieces (2005), a sculptural fountain in Adelaide, the city in which they lived.
Valamanesh won many awards and honors throughout his life, including the Visual Arts Fellowship from the Australia Council of Visual Arts, the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in Washington, DC, and the Bangladesh Biennale Grand Prize in Dhaka in 1998. A major retrospective of his work at the Institute of Islamic Cultures in Paris, “Since everything passes”, is currently on display until February.