ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Bibi Manavi as part of our Artist Spotlight.
Bibi Manavi is a Paris-based multi-disciplinary artist. Her practice focuses on accessing memory through microscopic observation and archiving of disappearing flora by means of sculpture and photography. She has exhibited her work throughout France, the U.K. and Italy.
Manavi graduated from Central Saint Martins, London in 2015. In 2016, her research on Persian ornamental techniques led her to undergo an apprenticeship in the traditional craft of Aineh-Kari (mirror mosaics) in Shiraz. She has since participated in various residencies which include: the 100ECS (Etablissement Culturel Solidaire) residency in Paris, 2019; and the Bikini Residency in Lake Como, 2017. She is set to attend the LabVerde residency program in the Brazilian Amazon in 2021, Covid-19 permitting.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Bibi Manavi: My work makes trees and flora speak. When trees and flora speak, they reveal a natural history and the cycle of time. They expose the human impact on our planet’s geology and its ecosystems, and they make known what has been and what is no more. All of this information is ingrained in diaries hidden deep within the cellular structure of plant life. My work features plant life from environments impacted by ecological mutation – from the highlands of Iran’s Alborz and Zagros mountain ranges to the European National Reserves and the Amazon basin. Through expeditions, guided by biologists, I gather samples of a regions’ plant life. These specimens are the raw material for my work.
Once the specimens are collected, I examine them under a microscope and lay bare their annual rings and cellular patterns. I produce renderings of the microscopic images and enlarge them in varying scales, which are then recreated in a mirror using traditional Iranian mirror mosaic techniques, then carved into wood using woodworking techniques. My finished works are sculptures and photographs that are a direct image of time, a lens in which the interior and exterior, the present and past, dissolve into liminal space. It is through these reflections of the memories of plant lives that I want us to reflect upon ourselves.
AE: What and who are some of your influences?
BM: I am an explorer at heart. The drive to explore influences me. Patterns influence me, those I observe in various scientific fields, from ornithology to mineralogy, the patterns of plumage to grain structure influence me. Taken as a whole, these raw materials that fill my cabinet de curiosité are all elements that retrace pieces of past environments that I have come across.
At the moment, I am highly driven by the vision of the French philosopher Bruno Latour. A vision that depicts humans, nonhumans, society, and nature as inseparable and bound together in a web of reciprocal influence. How I perceive these matters are driven by common denominators of concern for our future.
Some of my other influences are Shirazeh Houshiary, Sohrab Sepehri, Shigeo Toya, Giuseppe Penone.
AE: What are you working on in the studio right now?
BM: I am studying the historical, literary and spiritual significance of the summits of my native land, especially the ones I experienced as a child. I still feel the topographical wisdom of each elevation and still bear the scars of the ones I have hiked.
My current body of work, As Above So Below, is a series of photographic installations printed on textile where I use opacity and transparency as metaphors. The works range from grain structures of rocks, to topographical maps rooted in the geological clock, which is a system of chronological dating to determine the age of minerals, rocks, mountains, and ultimately the Earth.
The recurrent questions rising from my practice: What meanings emerge from a constructed image? To what extent can an image transcend the instantaneous condition of its creation and represent something that reflects a specific moment of our shared history?
AE: Can you tell us about the documentary film you are working on?
BM: The documentary is on the legacy of an Iranian woman pioneer, Mehremonir “Nini” Jahanbani, a woman who inspired my own creative journey.
In an endeavor that began in the 1960s, Nini Jahanbani traveled to rural parts of Iran’s Baluchistan province in search of a pristine Baluchi embroidery. For much of the following two decades, Nini worked with Baluchi women to deconstruct their intricate traditional patterns, then reconstructed them into a new modern aesthetic. Taking a leap from the ancient methods, which only incorporated five colors, she expanded the palette to approximately three hundred colors.
The outcome was the long- overdue recognition of one of the world’s most exquisite crafts and a generation of newly empowered Baluchi women who were sowing the patterns of the gowns worn by the former Empress of Iran, Farah Pahlavi. Today, Baluchi embroideries are part of mainstream fashion, and much of that has to do with the pioneering spirit of Nini Jahanbani.
AE: How have you been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic? Have you adjusted your practice to the new realities of self-isolation?
BM: When the pandemic hit, I was in Brazil, eager to start a residency in total immersion in the Amazon. Unfortunately, I was forced to return to a locked-down Paris.
In the Spring of 2020, during the quarantine, I felt gravity more intensely than ever, which truly grounded my body. I transformed my isolation into a portal of ephemeral escapism and created a refuge for my mind to indulge in its otherness.
My forced hibernation paved the way for my move into the highlands of Iran’s Alborz mountains. I came back to environments that had long ago shaped the pattern of my interests.
There, I built a studio and began my new body of work, As Above So Below, which will be part of the exhibition Le Mont Analogue- René Daumal opening this summer at FRAC Champagne-Ardenne in France.
BIBI MANAVI ONLINE: