Mamali Shafahi is an Iranian filmmaker and artist. Working between film, installation, sculpture and VR, Shafahi is interested in how technologies - such as the internet, smart phones and VR - have transformed everything, from our relationships with friends and families, to everyday objects and the world itself. In this context, he seeks to build bridges between the past and the future - specifically generations and cultures, but also between techniques and materials.
The artist’s ‘Daddy Sperm’ project, initiated in 2012, has underpinned his practice since then. The project looks at 'the miracle of life', the generational generosity of transmitting and creating life between people, bridging the past and future. In the artist’s own words, it questions “how a drop of liquid becomes a human being”.
As an initial aspect of this project, Shafahi collaborated with his father Reza Shafahi, who is a retired wrestler, not an artist. He asked his father to start drawing, to explore how his work might relate to his own. This intimate, familial interaction manifests itself within the artist’s signature ‘Heirloom Velvet’ sculpture series, with imagery from his father’s drawings appearing in the work, as well as the physical drawings present in his installations.
Shafahi’s flocked epoxy sculptures are striking, brightly coloured, monochrome reliefs produced from digital renderings. Choosing to work with flocking - as opposed to luxury materials such as velvet - creates a dichotomy favouring kitsch and ambiguous materiality. Questioning what is being passed between generations, other than DNA, and featuring historical and contemporary iconography from Iran, the work is a homage to his father, their ancestors, and heritage.
Shafahi embraces further collaborations, and these forms of exchange are central to his practice. The nerd_funk project was initiated with the artist Ali Eslami and creates large-scale VR experiences which relate to a constructed, physical environment, making the experience tactile and fully immersive. The project aims to investigate the digital or online realm through a virtual identity.
Additionally, 'Nature Morte’ is a two-episode docu-fiction stemming from his ‘Daddy Sperm’ project, in which he casts his parents as the actors. The first episode shows his parents at home in their everyday life, retired in the suburbs of Tehran. The couple are later transported into an imaginary world far from this reality. The second episode splits between the real world and the virtual, attempting to “immortalise” his parents by digitalising their images.
Installation is at the heart of his practice, and he transforms galleries into immersive spaces, using UV, coloured lighting and sculpture with a surreal, disorientating effect. His works are often kinetic, turning or featuring functioning fountains spewing water. The light in his work reacts intensely with the stark colours of his sculptures, becoming almost immaterial, like holograms, reflecting the notion that technology has increasingly blurred the line between reality and fiction.
Mamali Shafahi (b.1982, Tehran, IR) lives and works between Amsterdam, Paris and Tehran. He holds a BA in Photography from Tehran University of Art, IR (2004) and went on to study at ENSAPC: École Nationale Supérieure d'Arts Paris, FR (2008). He has been a finalist for the MOPCAP Contemporary Art Prize (2015), a Nominee for the Magic of Persia Contemporary Art Prize (2011 and 2009) and a winner of the UNESCO-Aschberg Bursaries for Artists (2008 and 2009).
He has exhibited internationally in galleries, institutes and biennials including: Palais de Tokyo, Paris, FR; Dastan’s Basement, Tehran, IR; Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch, Miami, USA; Everyday Gallery, Antwerp, BE; Frieze Cork Street, London, UK; Parallel Circuit, Tehran, IR; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, USA; OMM Museum, Eskisehir, TR; Pejman Foundation, Tehran, IR; 9th Biennial of Photography of Tehran, IR; Athens Biennial, GR; Liste, Basel, CH; Shulamit Gallery, Los Angeles, USA; Clubrhubarb, New York, USA; Cité International des Arts, Paris, FR; The Third Line, Dubai, UAE; Mosaic Rooms, London, UK; Mohsen Gallery, Tehran, IR; SMART Project Space, Amsterdam, NL; Aaran Gallery, Tehran, IR; Tarahan Azad Gallery, Tehran, IR; Wochdom Gallery, Paris, FR; Tehran Gallery, IR; VITRINE Fitzrovia, London, UK.
Residencies include Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, NL (2022 and 2020); Vancouver Biennale residency, CA (2019); Townhouse residency, Cairo, EG (2019); Delfina Foundation, London, UK (2018); CPH DOX, Copenhagen, DK (2018); ISBA, Besancon, FR (2017); MMCA Changdong Residency, Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Seoul, KR (2017).
His project nerd_funk has been presented at 2019 Vancouver Biennale, CA; Het nieuwe instituut, Rotterdam, NL; IDFA film festival, Amsterdam, NL; CPH DOX, Copenhagen, DE; Netherlands Film Festival, Utrecht, NL; Impossible Bodies, 's-Hertogenbosch, NL.
Shafahi recently presented in the group exhibition '100 Years' with Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch, Miami, USA held over Art Basel Miami 2023.
Current and forthcoming exhibitions include 'Screen, Screen on my Phone, Who's the Fairest of Them All?' at Garage Rotterdam, NL (until 9 April 2023) and the group show 'Some seasons: Fereydoun Ave and the Laal Collection, 1959–2019' at Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, UAE (Opening 28 September 2023).