Mokarrameh, a Tale from Rural Iran
Mokarrameh Ghanbari was born in 1928 in a village in Mazandaran, a northern province of Iran. Her life represents the rural and feudal society of the early 20 century: Illiterate, sold into marriage at a very young age, she raised nine children and lived with two havoo – her husband’s other wives. She was a farmer and a farmer’s wife, she also worked as a seamstress, a hair dresser, a mid wife, a healer and an oven-maker.
“… I had two havoo but I really liked my older havoo …In the old days it wasn’t like today, people having boyfriends and girlfriends. They would marry you and take you off by force, sometimes by beating or whipping you. If anybody liked anybody they had to marry them… my husband was a kadkhoda -the leader of the village- and his brother was an arbab, a feudal lord. He liked me very much but I didn’t want to marry and after one whole year they married me by force, because he was a very powerful man.”
At the age of 64 Mokarrameh started painting.
In her words: “… After my husband died […] I bought a cow and started taking care of it. So by the time my son got accepted at the University of Isfahan and left, we had a lot of cows to take care of, which was a lot of work and exhausted me and I fell sick and they had to take me to Tehran for hospitalization and treatment…and while I was sick in bed the children went back and sold the cows because they were concerned about my health, […] and that hurt me a lot, so I started painting on small things when I felt lonely to help me cope with it.”
She made her first painting, a portrait of the cow, with mud and cow dung on a rock. Then she painted on the walls of her house and whatever surfaces she could find.
According to her son: “When I saw her paint I wanted to buy her paper and paint, but she said, ‘Just get me some used paper.’ So I bought her 50 sheets of A4 paper, and after one month, when I came back I saw that she had drawn and painted on both sides of them, so I bought her 100 sheets this time and after some time she had covered both sides of those too, the third time I came back she had ran out of paint and had made some natural paint herself out of herbs and plants, and that is how this all began…”
Her paintings tell her stories, local folk legends and religious tales from Islam and Christianity:
“My husband was a very good storyteller and farmers would gather in the evening and he would entertain them with his stories … that is where I learned all these stories like Rostam & Sohrab, Raana & Najmeh, Leila & Majnoon, Moses, Jesus. That is why I use them in my work. No trees or landscapes, all stories!”
“… it was at night … my son came and asked me, ‘mother what is that you’ve drawn.’ I said, ‘Well it’s Adam and Eve.’ He said, ‘Why did you draw them naked?‘ And I said, ‘What is wrong with that?‘ Then he asked, ‘Would you have drawn your family naked?‘ Then I said, ‘Well, when God created us we were all naked,‘ … He didn’t talk to me for ten days… I was very angry at my son I painted two other naked Adam and Eve paintings. But he is OK with it now…”
Speaking of her paintings:
…This is the story of Isaac. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. That is the serpent -Satan- telling Abraham to hurry up and Abraham throws stones at him. Just as he is about to kill his son, God sends a lamb to him and tells him to sacrifice the lamb instead of his son…
…Noah, this is Noah who plants the seed of a date and it becomes a tree, then he makes an Ark with it. But he leaves his child and his wife behind because they didn’t believe in him. And then God sends a big storm, but those in the Ark survive…
…This is our family. I drew it when it was the wedding of one of my brother’s kids here… I didn’t put my husband in the picture. I didn’t want him to be in there. I destroyed it. There is a white line right there. That is where he was but I whitened it out. I didn’t want it.
I wanted to write a poem, but I didn’t know how to write,
I started to paint
In 1995, Massoumeh Seyhoun, the owner of the oldest Art Gallery of Tehran exposed her work for the first time. Since Mokarrameh has been subject of an increasing attention: beside numerous exhibitions, director Ebrahim Mokhtari made a documentary on her life, Mokarrameh: Memories and dreams. She was also chosen as the women of the year in 2001 by the Iranian Women’s Studies Foundation.
Mokarrameh died at the age of 77 on October 24, 2005.
Prominent members of art and culture are preparing a foundation in her name to preserve and show her works in the small hut where she lived and died.
Mokarrameh Ghanbari: village visionary, PBS, Adventure Divas
A lady who never sat idle, Sima Sayyah, Payvand
Avec Mokarrameh Ganbari, Valérie Constantin
Works of an ethnic artist at Dey art gallery, Soheila Mahdavi, Tehran Avenue