Siah Armajani

Shirt #1 (Hemd #1)

Armajani Shirt 1 The Metropolitan Museum Of Art 1500 - © Siah Armajani/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © bpk/The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Siah Armajani
  • Shirt #1 (Hemd #1)
  • 1958
  • Cloth, pencil, ink, wood
  • 80.6 × 76.2 cm
  • Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, 2011 NoRuz at The Met Benefit, 2012 (2012.109) - © Siah Armajani/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © bpk/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Produced when the young Siah Armajani was still living in Iran, Shirt #1 (1958) is covered with hand-inscribed Sufi texts by the fourteenth century Persian poet Hafiz, as well as other folk and spiritual writings. Motivated by his observation of scribes and spell-makers in his home city of Tehran, Armajani invokes the power of spiritual verses by writing them onto the lining of a suit jacket belonging to his father. This jacket lining is detached from the jacket itself, so it is unclear whether the fabric has come from a jacket cut according to local Iranian style or Western style. Regardless of the surface upon which the inscriptions have been copied, however, it is important to note that the writings themselves are not abstracted. Although Armanjani flips and turns lines of text in order to render them onto the assembled fabric, they remain readable, at least to those familiar with Persian script and language. Furthermore, Shirt #1 does not present language or script as aesthetic devices, but offers specific verses and poems that carry an affective resonance. The work is thus both a provocative combination of text and ready-made object and a protective talisman produced from the clothing of a specific wearer ‒ Armajani’s father ‒ to whom the object somehow still seems connected.

Gemma Sharpe

Biography of Siah Armajani

  • Born 1939 in Siah Armajani migrated to the United States in 1960. He studied philosophy and mathematics at Macalester College in Minneapolis;
Siah Armajani migrated to the United States in 1960. He studied philosophy and mathematics at Macalester College in Minneapolis; at the same time he started making artworks. He had early success with his painting Prayer (1962), which was exhibited and purchased by the Walker Art Center. This piece, like his other works of that time, shows a dense, abstract structure composed of excerpts of poems from the 13th and 14th centuries (including the Sufi writers Rumi and Hafez), which Armajani transcribed by hand onto the canvas using black ink. From the late 1960s Armajani developed an interest in American vernacular building techniques, which led to the creation of his first model bridges. Those early attempts were followed by freestanding sculptures and bigger architectural efforts such as reading rooms, bridges and poetry gardens. His focus on public art was inspired by his belief in democratic ideals put forward by thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson. His early exhibitions included Art by Telephone at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 1969, Information at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1970, and Documenta, Kassel (1972; 1982; 1987).