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—Artist Feature—

Darvish, Urban Myth-making

By Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle

Darvish walking in the air, photo by Hugh Fox

The name is Darvish. Through performance and evocative paintings, an artist turns the misunderstanding and stereotyping of his identity into his source of power.


Darvish, who recently landed an upcoming solo show at Leila Heller Gallery in Dubai, is an artist being recognized for his evocative and playful work exploring cultural identity. An Iranian American artist living in the UK, Darvish’s identity has long been the subject of his work and others’ misconceptions about his background. He mixes Western techniques with Eastern philosophies, such as incorporating Persian poetry into oil paintings or converting a skateboard into a flying carpet. With his persona as a self-proclaimed “Urban Sufi” inspired by whirling dervishes, he creates gentle civic disruptions that are both spontaneous and planned acts of performance art. Sufism, also known as ‘Tasawwuf’ is a mystic body of religious practice within Islam, characterised by a focus on Islamic spirituality. It is defined as the mystical expression of Islamic faith or the inward dimension of the religion. In what he calls “gentle civic disruptions,” Darvish channels his influences and inspirations from Sufism to challenge our preconceived notions of culture and tolerance in performance work that strikes viewers and passersby with its surrealism, humour, and optimism. Though he is not a practicing Sufi, his work is meant to pay homage to the purity of Sufi mysticism. Here & There met with Darvish to talk about his work and how the guerrilla nature of such work is meant to disrupt the daily movement of our lives.

Darvish and red balloon, photo by Hugh Fox
Darvish flying skateboard, photo by Hugh Fox
Darvish and gulls, photo by Hugh Fox

How does your identity inspire your work?

I feel like my identity is “unfinished business.” I keep tapping into the well, scooping up water to drink from, and as I get older I am having to reach further in…but I would say the water seems purer as I get closer to the source.    


How would you define ‘gentle civic disruptions’?

We unconsciously adopt certain behavioural patterns of movement and pacing. My gentle civic disruptions are an offer to witness something other than the cultural patterning that is ingrained in us all. It’s not a performance piece, though. It's more of an exchange, as I am very aware of and affected by the energies around me. It’s similar to taking a drop of colour, let's say blue, and dropping it into a small puddle of red. Suddenly, you have a shade of purple.

"Brighton suits my temperament. Everyone here is either on their way to watch the circus or be in it."

Can you take us through the different steps of creating one of your pieces? Does it change radically from the different materials you’re using? Between palimpsest and tagged paintings for instance, or even your movement pieces. 

They are all about “interferences” of some kind, both the painting and the movement work.  Painting can be thought of as a series of interferences with the status quo. Even a white canvas has an appealing simplicity to it that is obscured when the paint is added. I often paint over paintings that I enjoy forgetting about until I scrape off the top layers usually 2 to 6 years later (sometimes longer) and they reveal these hidden jewels of my past efforts. It's a kind of all-inclusive process that involves exposing rather than covering.  


Your movement pieces are both set in nature and more urban areas, do you prefer one to the other?  


No, both have their own wave sets. I refer to them as ‘wave sets’ because moving through space feels a lot like surfing. I just float about on the surface and wait for my moment. Once I’m on my board, I try to push the boundaries of what I can do on that wave. The same is true whether I’m moving in a crowded train station or out in a field of fresh air. 

Darvish, photo by Hugh Fox
Darvish painting air, photo by Hugh Fox

Why is incorporating humour into your art important to you?

I think of it more as “lightness” than humour. Humour, to me, feels like a joke. My goal is to make our daily life a little lighter, considering what happens in the world right now and what each individual might go through. The world has seen and continues to see its fair share of chaos. It’s not that I’m unaware of what is going on, it’s more because I’m aware of it. I want my work to be a different kind of island where there is less gravity and more laughter. A place where you can enjoy each other's company without having to speak…like my grandfather and my wife's grandfather who just ate melon together under an Isfahani sun.


Being half Iranian and American, how did you end up settling in the UK?  

Although I spent the first half of my life in America (hometown Brookline, MA), my mother is from Brighton, England. I came to the UK to complete my master’s in painting in London and afterwards decided to stay. Brighton suits my temperament. Everyone here is either on their way to watch the circus or be in it.

By Alexa Bouhelier-Ruelle
Photos by Hugh Fox provided by artist

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