Hossein Valamanesh, an Iranian-born, Australia-based artist whose poetic works commented on the struggles of immigrants, died this past weekend age 72 from a heart attack, according to a statement by the Australia Council of Visual Arts.
Mikala Tai, the council’s head of visual arts, said, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of such an important artist and mentor of the Australian visual arts community. His gentle and generous nature will be greatly missed, it has anchored and guided the artistic community. We have no doubt that Hossein’s oeuvre 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 native city before moving to Australia in 1973 to attend the South Australia School of Art. He took his cues from Arte Povera, an Italian art movement that began in the mid-1960s and encouraged artists to use materials that were freely available. Sticks, sand, dirt, leaves, and stones found near his studio were often used in his work. Domestic objects often found in his home country of Iran, like rugs, oil lamps, and slippers, were also employed in his work about the immigrant experience. Valamanesh’s work commented on the pain and complexity of his own migration from Iran to Australia, and invoked a placeless, transcendent kind of spirituality that stemmed from his engagement with Sufism and Buddhism as well as his love of nature.
Longing, belonging (1997), one of his most famous works, is a performance, sculpture, and photography work that perhaps best epitomizes his work on the immigrant experience. He traveled into the Australian outback with the rug, built a small pyre in its center, and lit it on fire. The carpet survived, but with a blackened hole where the fire was lit. The remains of the piece, along 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 The love circles his own heart (1993) involved a suspended piece of cloth in the shape of a funnel that was suspended and spun so that it fanned out in the shape of the skirt of a whirling dervish. His video Passing Time (2011) depicts the artist making a figure-eight motion with his fingers. The play of the figure-eight symbol and the looping video paired with the artists aged hands speaks to the seemingly endless quality of a life that will end. This work was one of many collaborations he made with his son Nassiem, a filmmaker and video artist.
Valamanesh also frequently collaborated with his wife Angela to create public artworks. 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 piece in Adelaide, the city in which they lived.
Valamanesh won many awards and honors throughout his lifetime, including the Visual Arts Fellowship from the Australia Council of Visual Arts, the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in Washington, D.C., and the Grand Prix at the Bangladesh Biennale in Dhaka in 1998. A major retrospective of his work at the Institut des Cultures d’Islam in Paris, “Puisque tout passe (This will also pass),” is currently on view until February.