Siah Armajani (1939-2020) was an Iranian sculptor who worked in the United States for six decades. Forced out of Iran in 1960 by the antidemocratic movement, Armajani focused on architecturally scaled sculpture inspired by literary and political themes. His artwork ranged from public sculptural commissions, such as the 1996 Olympic torch and the Staten Island tower and bridge, to smaller, more intimate works on paper. Throughout his career, his goal was to link different kinds of structures with their political, philosophical, and ethical implications.
Although much of his early work focused on utopian themes, often linked to the United States, Armajani focused more heavily on Iranian subject matter in recent years. In 2009 the Meulensteen Gallery exhibited his large cage-like sculpture Murder in Tehran, dedicated to the memory of a young activist, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot during a protest of the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that year.
In 1996 Lannan Foundation commissioned Armajani to create The Poetry Garden for the courtyard of its Los Angeles museum. When the Foundation moved to its current location in Santa Fe, The Poetry Garden was dismantled. In 1999 Lannan Foundation made a gift of the original sculpture to Beloit College. In 2007 the Foundation purchased one of Armajani’s most innovative works, Fallujah, a multilevel glass structure built to commemorate Pablo Picasso's 1937 antiwar painting Guernica, which the artist compared to the death and destruction of the Iraq War. The piece was shown at the Santa Fe Art Institute in 2007 and was then gifted to the Walker Art Center, where it remains in the permanent collection; Lannan Foundation possesses a version of the piece in model form.
Armajani’s work is represented in some of the most celebrated collections around the world, such as the British Museum and the Guggenheim, and has been featured in exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2011 he was awarded both the Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government and the McKnight Foundation Distinguished Artist Award. He lived and worked in Minneapolis.
Armajani s epic drawing Written Minneapolis (The Last Tomb), 2014, an homage to his hometown of Tehran, depicted his home of Minneapolis. This felt-pen-on-Mylar drawing measures 36 inches high by an impressive 222 inches long. In a love letter to both his hometown and his adoptive home, Armajani portrayed Minneapolis with its vernacular architecture and an air that is distinctly midwestern. Created on a specially made tilted work space in his studio, the scroll-like drawing is rich with shading and detail, all created using text written in the artist’s native Persian. Of this work, Armajani wrote:
"Among the works in this exhibition is Written Minneapolis (The Last Tomb), 2014. It is 18 feet long and a mix of writings and drawings of the neighborhood of my place of work.
At the end of the nineteenth century and into the first two decades of the twentieth, this part of Minneapolis was developed to be used for warehouses and light industry. By now, the neighborhood has morphed from its early years of grain elevators into a mixed use of storage houses, residential, and crisscrossed with railroad tracks, some useful and some useless.
Written Minneapolis (The Last Tomb) is a crooked memory of my childhood and adolescence in Tehran, and then later on after I came to Minneapolis. Empty spaces were filled with poetry that I had to memorize as a student…some Persian and some impromptu translations by my teacher of French symbolist poets."