In 2011, Bita Ghezelayagh’s combination of rural felt-craft and modern Iranian imagery earned her a place on the Jameel Prize shortlist. In her latest exhibition, she takes worn-out carpets from Western homes and returns them to their Middle Eastern roots by reshaping them as shepherd’s cloaks.
If the purpose of art is to make viewers look again at a familiar object, The Letter that Never Arrived is a success. Persian carpets are perhaps the Middle East’s greatest export – and such a staple ingredient of the middle-class sitting room that the cultural exchange they represent is hardly commented on. By pulling the rug from beneath our feet and installing it in a gallery, Iranian artist Ghezelayagh ensures the intense patterns, earthy palette and organic texture get the attention they deserve.
Providing a contrast to this riff on tradition is a series of original felted works. In ‘Persian for beginners’, a collection of small frames, the crispness of the calligraphy stands out against a muted colour scheme and the softness of the felt. ‘Her Hair’, which includes tresses of dangling keys, is perhaps the most creative.
The exhibition works best when it manages to thoroughly detach the textile from its familiar setting. At other times, however, the naïve drawings and colours of the larger felted works veer dangerously towards New Age territory. Some of the cloaks still shout of hall carpets.
These reminders aside, the show marks a continued fascination with textiles and the way they can be used to express both East-West tension and the gap between past and present.
The Letter that Never Arrived, Rose Issa Projects, 82 Great Portland Street, free. Until 24 May, Mon-Fri 12-6pm, Sat by appointment.