The Saqqakhaneh Movement

Sadegh Tabrizi was one of the original members of what later became known as the Saqqakhaneh school of Iranian artists. In the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Tabrizi and other young artists from the Faculty of Decorative Arts in Tehran took Iranian folk art and literary traditions far beyond their original context, while remaining loyal to the spirit of their Iranian heritage.

Saqqakhaneh are votive structures for public use. These humble places of charity are still found in old districts of towns and townships in Iran. Every Saqqakhaneh consists of a small shelf equipped with a water tank, copper bowl, and a few other such items. Saqqakhaneh are dedicated to the spirit of the martyrs who were thirsty when they were killed by Yazidi men in the scorching sun of Karbala. The major function of Saqqakhaneh is to offer cold water to passers-by. They also fulfill part of the spiritual needs at the grass roots. Saqqakhaneh must naturally include the image of one of the holy Imams to give it an aura of sanctity. There are metal trays with candleholders for those who want to light a candle in the memory of one of the holy Imams or a lost relative. Small padlocks locked to a chain on the lattice window of the room are indications of vows and quests for beneficence from the holy spirit of the Imam who protects a particular Saqqakhaneh. Some religious objects also augment the holy atmosphere of Saqqakhaneh: a hand cut out of a brass or tin sheet, beads, mirror, black or green screens with prayers or verses of the Koran inscribed on them with needlework, and paintings or stamps of the incidents of Karbala or other religious stories.

It is now evident how Saqqakhaneh is a befitting and eloquent term. This term represents a whole range of convictions and deeds that are closely associated with the history of Iran. The image of Saqqakhaneh haunts the memories of a society that has yet to witness extraordinary powers of change and transformation. Vowed objects and decorations of Saqqakhaneh are reminiscent of an old lifestyle that suddenly encountered the necessities of a new, dazzling world at the turn of the century.

As Mr. Tabrizi indicates, history is expressed by the objects that were in use and connected to the traditional lifestyle before Western technology invaded. These objects included large beads, old inscriptions, pages of calligraphy, antique beads, metal bowls with engraved brims, stained glass and semi-precious stones. Tabrizi is also inspired by religious paintings and those of "experimental" artists. The important point in his work is that he can organize this array of elements into a more or less coherent totality. Rhythmic repetition of motifs is one of the secrets to his success. Tabrizi often reveals details of traditional objects. Therefore, the eyes of spectators go over his work to discover familiar details that haunt stories of the past. Tabrizi achieves that impurity in Persian literature that allows readers to enjoy the details of narration regardless of their general position in the plot. On the other hand, he sometimes translates all these details into abstract forms that provoke the curiosity of the audience about their sources.

All images copyright © 2003 by Tabrizi Galleries. All Rights Reserved.