• Beyond the Canvas

Gates of Turan, Firouz FarmanFarmaian at the Venice Biennale

Sometimes the Venice Biennale takes you places you'd never dream of going to. A decision to escape the mad crowds of San Marco and take the ferry to Giudecca meant I was rewarded with a mesmerising insight into a nomadic culture I knew nothing about.


Firouz Farman-Farmaian has recreated a traditional Kyrgyz environment where we see, hear, smell (the felt banners hanging from the ceiling are made of yak wool) and, mostly, feel. It is also possible to sit on a rug underneath the tündük, the dome at the center of the yurt, something I now regret not doing. Immersive has become such an abused, empty buzzword, it doesn't do this work any justice. Multi-sensory is more fitting. I felt lifted, transported, humbled, surprised, moved, soothed, inspired. I felt like I was present, but also a million miles away.


Firouz's background as an exile following the Islamic revolution in his native Iran s crucial to his artistic vision. A self-identified nomad himself, he was able to draw on his life experience and shared tribal ancestry with the Turanian nomads to put together this fascinating installation, which is the result of multiple trips to the remote Kyrgyz highlands. That's where Firouz initiated a collaboration with the Alytn Kol (Golden Hands) Women Handicraft Cooperative who made the beautiful felt rugs, the shyrdaks.


Superbly curated by Janet Rady, this is a deeply engaging experience any Biennale-goer worth their salt would do well not to miss. Special thanks to Catalina who provided me with some much-needed context before I entered the yurt. It really did help.


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