Artist of the Month: Kamyar Bineshtarigh

Art Feature by Aaliyah Ahmed

Image by Ryno Stols

Meet our artist of the month who uses language as his raw material.

Kamyar Bineshtarigh was born in 1996 in Semnan, Iran. He currently lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa where he graduated from the Ruth Prowse School of Art in 2019, winning the Ruth Prowse prize for the best body of practical work. His work has been featured in a number of group exhibitions in Cape Town, including My Whole Body Changed into Something Else at Stevenson gallery and Shaping Things at SMAC gallery. Bineshtarigh’s debut solo cubicle exhibition, Pilgrim, opened at Everard Read/Circa Gallery (Cape Town) in 2019. 

His work, most notably mixed-media with a particular focus on painting and video, addresses and invites the viewer into his conceptual concerns which range from language and communication to the practice of writing and transliteration in relation to movement, migration and displacement of human bodies. Migration and displacement are central these in Bineshtarigh’s work since he draws on his own experiences of moving from Iran to South Africa.

Bineshtarigh is known for his use of the Farsi language as a means of “poetic obfuscation.” This obfuscation, makes the message of the words difficult to understand. Bineshtarigh emphasizes this by using textual characters on the canvas to form abstract images, whose initial value is based on aesthetic instead of its linguistic meaning. Bineshtarigh states, “I approach text as painting, or as marks. When I do my work, it’s not writing anymore. It’s usually just marks. So it was important to me to approach text as a non-comprehensive thing.”  In doing so, Bineshtarigh shifts the emphasis from the particular meaning of the language, to its visual value, something that can be appreciated by many. Through this “poetic obfuscation,” Bineshtarigh gets to see how the viewer reacts to his work and how the viewer feels, rather than being caught up and limited by the structure and meaning behind the text.

Bineshtarigh’s most familiar work is the mural painted on the surface of the AVA gallery in 2019. Bineshtarigh took Edward Said’s Orientalism and transliterated its original roman characters into the Arabic alphabet. By doing so, Bineshtarigh is intentionally confusing the Western gaze as well as the readers who are familiar with and can read the  Arabic script. Bineshtarigh cleverly makes the statement that translation, can widen the space between people, rather than making things more accessible and therefore, by default, can create a power imbalance. As M Thesen Law succinctly phrases it , “Bineshtarigh draws attention to the superficiality and paternalistic romanticism of orientalist and colonial imaginaries of the East.” Bineshtarigh has successfully been able to convey contemporary dissonance and chaos through his work. 

The intense beauty of Kamyar Bineshtarigh’s body of work is inspired by the uncertainty and seemingly “randomness” in his life. He creates work that embraces and reflects the beauty of chaos with an intention to address larger global issues that are rooted in past injustices which are continuously perpetuated in the present.  

Bineshtarigh’s latest body of work titled Hafez: The Tongue of the Unseen Realms, 2020, continues to emphasize the chaos and uncertainty that we are surrounded by. Bineshtarigh hung his latest fabric works in an abandoned factory, surrounded by birds, bird droppings and feathers. And although the fabric might be hanging in a semi-repulsive environment, the text on the fabric, emits the fragrant words by the well-known 14th century Persian Sufi poet, Hafez, whose poetry expresses love and spirituality as well as religious hypocrisy. 

Each piece of fabric contains the ghazal, a lyrical poem. In Iran, there is a tradition of divination called Fal-e Hafez. Many people turn to this tradition when they are looking for answers or guidance. Bineshtarigh explains, in a recent interview for New Frame that, “Everyone has this book of Hafez in their house. It’s a form of celebration, or when you are uncertain about something or seeking advice, you randomly open his book and that poem becomes your answer.” Inspired by this tradition, Bineshtarigh uses this same methodology and randomly selects sections of poems from the Divan- i Hafez (a collection of Hafez’s poems)  to write on the fabrics. By doing this, Bineshtarigh uses the tradition of divination to direct the art. 

Bineshtarigh, through his works, philosophy and art practice, echo the words of Aristotle, who said, “ excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” So although Bineshtarigh begins his work with a type of randomness, what follows is determined by sheer skill, talent and insight, which contributes to the strength of Bineshtarigh’s body of work. 

To see more of Kamyar’s work or get in touch:

@kamyar_bineshtarigh