INSTEAD OF USING HIS PAINTINGS TO TALK ABOUT MORALITY, THIS SHIRAZ-BORN ARTIST PAINTS TO QUESTION CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL ISSUES
Born in 1976 in Shiraz, a town to the southwest of Iran, Raoof Haghighi grew up in a family of artists. With his father being one of Iran’s highly respected ceramicists and painters, Haghighi decided to break the family tradition where five siblings followed in their father’s footsteps into the conventional practice of art by pursuing his interests in graphic design and music before taking him off on a journey to London to expand his own artistic horizons and experiences in 2009.
HAGHIGHI’S PAINTING IS A MANIFESTATION TO VIEWERS THAT PAINTING, AS A FORM OF ART, IS ALIVE AND WELL
Haghighi was already a renowned artist in Iran before moving to the UK. Though, during the first couple of years in London, he had to make a great deal of adjustments in order to cope and grow accustomed to the new culture and language. With the conflicts that these challenges brought about in his mind, he found that painting was the best way to speak to others efficiently, while also downplaying his natural shyness and bypassing the language gap. Looking through his body of work, you will notice Haghighi expresses his feelings of being an ‘outsider’ in various styles as well as mediums. Specific examples would be ‘The Reader’ (2015) where the perspective of the ‘outsider’ is expressed in the painting depicting Haghighi sitting in a room reading with a small painted self-portrait of himself on a wall looking out the window, symbolizing his observation as an outsider from a distance. In ‘Fetus,’ one can see the use of symbolic elements such as the figure’s baby-like sleeping posture as the artist metaphorically compares the state when he was trying to cope with the new cultural environment to the time of a baby in a mother’s womb while the Persian rug and western attire (in this particular work—a pair of jeans) reflect his two coexisting identities (western/middle eastern).
While Haghighi’s painting is a manifestation to us viewers that painting, as a form of art, is alive and well, another great source of fun one can experience from reading his paintings is a return to the traditional painting analysis method where facial expressions of figures, spaces and symbols the artist intentionally include are all meaningful (similar to the use of symbols in moral painting but with more contemporary subject matter). To the question regarding Haghighi’s artistic process, the answer can be found in ‘Take Me Home’ (2011), a painting of the artist wearing a cylindrical-shaped hat worn by the members of Qajar Dynasty back in the 18th Century while sleeping in a room with elements of western décor. In this particular work, Haghighi questions (or somewhat challenges) whether the higher power, regulations and traditions that once bound him can still be an anchor for him to hold on to now that he’s living in an entirely different physical space and culture. We find his answer lies in the presence of the rope hanging from the top of the painting and how it looks so thin and powerless that we don’t think it would ever be able to pull him (back) up to where he was before.
TEXT: NAPAT CHARITBUTRA