(15th November – 11th December 2010)
Ranked with some of the world’s greatest literature like the Mahabharata and the Iliad, the Shahnama or ‘Persian Epic of Kings’ is at the heart of an exhibition being held at The Prince’s Foundation Gallery, London. The ‘Contemporary Shahnama Millennium Painting Exhibition’ celebrates the importance of the epic poem a thousand years after the great Iranian poet Firdausi composed it in 1010 CE.
Invoked over the centuries as “a political statement against power and tyranny”, Shahnama’s concern with universal values and deepening of human conscience makes it an enduring text for all times.
There is much that is groundbreaking in the new readings of the Shahnama and this is exemplified in the essays and images of the exhibition. Representations of the epic’s main hero Rostam, for example, range from his traditional depictions as heroic warrior, to comical de-gendered macho, digital war machine, and Talibanic demon. Likewise, some of the Catalogue essays unveil a surprising facet of Shahnama women. Bold and confident, these women show remarkable perseverance as individuals, taking a stand especially when it comes to choosing their lovers, or raising sons as single parent.
In addition, the illustrations and essays of the exhibition Catalogue examine the epic’s importance in a turbulent region spanning Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran—a region that largely constitutes the poem’s theatre of action and is the epicentre of extremist Islamic insurgencies today that are both a product and response to the ‘global war on terror’. A vibrant array of artists and academics from Afghanistan, Australia, Britain, France, Iran, India, Pakistan and Russia who created this exhibition are testament to Shahnama’s relevance in a nascent global culture where the creation of new consciousness is a heroic act.
Originally designed to accompany the exhibition of Shahnama manuscripts and paintings that opened in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (11 September 2010 – 9 January 2011), the exhibition at Prince’s Foundation is curated by miniature painter Fatima Zahra Hassan-Agha. She organized the exhibition in association with Charles Melville, Director of the Cambridge Shahnama project, The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan .