Abbas Akhavan, Winning Artist, Abraaj Group Art Prize 2014
Study for a Hanging Garden , Cast bronze, cotton fabric, dimensions variable
‘Study for a Hanging Garden’ is an act of commemoration, and also an attempt to archive plants belonging to regions around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the title hinting at the legendary gardens of Babylon. Plant taxonomy thrived as a scientific discipline in colonial times, when 19th century researchers gained access to new areas and organised expeditions around the world gathering species, and thereby becoming the gatekeepers of scientific knowledge. Akhavan has traced botanical species such as those held at London’s Kew Gardens, in particular endemic species that grow in present-day Iraq, such as Iris barnumae, Astragalus lobophorus and Campanula acutiloba. Damage to their habitat, firstly by the destruction of salt marshes and then by the effects of war, has made tracing them a difficult task.
Rooted in the funerary tradition of commemorating the dead, monuments often record public figures or landmark historical events. They demonstrate strength and attempt to stimulate forms of nationalist or collective memory despite the inevitability of shifts in power. Sculpted from photographic documentation and cast in bronze, these flowers, stems, leaves and roots are displayed in groupings which rest on the ground, resisting the verticality and singularity of traditional monuments. Enlarged to a human scale, they are displayed on simple white sheets, as if captured while being transported.
Abbas Akhavan’s practice ranges from site-specific ephemeral installations to drawing, video and performance. The domestic sphere, as a forked space between hospitality and hostility, has been an ongoing area of research in Akhavan’s work.
More recent works have shifted focus, wandering onto spaces just outside the home – the garden, the backyard, and other domesticated landscapes. Recent exhibitions include: ‘Variations on a Garden’, Galerie Mana, Istanbul (2013); ‘Study for a Garden’, Delfina Foundation, London (2012); ‘Tactics for Here & Now’, Bucharest Biennale, Bucharest (2012); ‘Tools for Conviviality’ Power Plant, Toronto (2012); ‘Beacon’, Darling Foundry, Montreal (2012); ‘Phantomhead’, Performa 11, New York (2011); ‘Seeing is Believing’, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2011). Akhavan was the recipient of Kunstpreis Berlin, 2012. He lives and works in Toronto and is represented by the Third Line, Dubai/UAE.