Iranian-born, UK-based artist and former Paralympian Mohammad Barrangi opens new exhibition
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Iranian-born, UK-based artist and former Paralympian Mohammad Barrangi opens new exhibition
Born in Rasht, Iran, in 1988, Barrangi began drawing at the age of nine, and went on to study art. With a passion for storytelling, he transitioned into book illustration and graduated in Graphic Design.

WAKEFIELD .- The Art House is presenting Dreamland, the most ambitious and comprehensive solo exhibition by Iranian-born, UK-based artist and former Paralympian Mohammad Barrangi.

The project is a celebration of the artist’s working relationship with The Art House, and marks the first time the internationally acclaimed illustrator and printmaker has translated his evocative illustrations into sculpture, using pioneering sustainable, 3D-printed technology with the support of XPLOR, Production Park’s state-of-the-art research and innovation centre for entertainment technology and production, the first research centre of its kind in the world, based in Wakefield.

Born in Rasht, Iran, in 1988, Barrangi began drawing at the age of nine, and went on to study art. With a passion for storytelling, he transitioned into book illustration and graduated in Graphic Design.

The exhibition is a culmination of Barrangi’s relationship with The Art House, who were just announced as the main awardee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s 2022 Award for Civic Arts Organisations, for its pioneering approach to working with communities, using the power of art for societal change.

After having to leave his homeland in 2017, Barrangi was placed in an initial accommodation centre in Wakefield. During this time, he was introduced to The Art House and welcomed into the Studio of Sanctuary residency programme, the first of its kind in the UK, which supports artists seeking sanctuary to re-establish their creative practice.

Barrangi’s work is deeply rooted in exploring the concepts of migration, and centres around the storytelling of travel and journeys. Inspired by Iranian mythological stories and contemporary social upheaval events, he has developed a signature style of bold imagery that combines elements of Persian calligraphy, old scientific illustration, and storytelling. His work centres on his lived experience of seeking asylum in the UK, and disability.

Born without the use of his left arm, Barrangi traditionally works on the floor and uses his feet to steady his work while printing. Reflecting his own experience with a disability, his works often show images of people with lost arms and legs, or with limb difference.

Barrangi has translated his evocative illustrations for the first time into sculpture, based on the fantastical world of mythical characters that feature in his prints, which also will be displayed. Central to The Art House gallery is Wonderland (2022), is a 2.5-metre-tall sculpture of a woman riding a stag, and Waiting for a Saviour (2022), Barrangi’s first mural to include a three-dimensional zebra-unicorn, his fantastical hybrid creature that extends out from the wall to blur the boundaries between imagination and reality.

This exciting shift into sculpture presented challenges that Barrangi was able to overcome by working with the team at XPLOR. The artist explains: “My work ultimately shapes me, my feelings and view of the community around me, so while every exhibition is different it comes from my own innermost feelings. Every exhibition I like to try new methods and new work. Of course, there is a risk, but for me it is a challenge.”

Using cutting-edge technology, the XPLOR team brought to life the artist’s characters, first as miniature figures, before producing full scale works. Printed in sections, the pieces were assembled into full scale sculptures and moved to The Art House where Barrangi began his unique technique of applying prints directly onto to surfaces he works with. He then embarks on the long process of rubbing away the top layer of fibres to reveal the images underneath.

The sculptures have been created using PLA plastic – a plant-based material which, unlike other plastics, is recyclable. The material is being researched by XPLOR to help find ways of making the creative sector more sustainable and reducing waste. XPLOR also enlisted the support of students from Backstage Academy, which offers specialist undergraduate and postgraduate degrees for the live events & creative industries, also based on campus at Production Park, to work on the project.

Barrangi has also created work directly in response to his feeling for The Art House and the support he felt he received during a difficult time in his life. His Blue Homes (2022) series, a collection of large-scale sculptural houses, are inspired by his reflection of The Art House as a welcoming safe space which offers a feeling of ‘home’ and a sanctuary for many people in Yorkshire. The title references Barrangi’s time in an immigration detention centre in 2018, when he was kept in a cell for 20 days, with the bright blue light shining on him all day and night.

The Art House was instrumental in successfully advocating for his release, preventing his deportation and even housing the artist on-site after his accommodation was revoked.

The artist says: “Wakefield and The Art House were a sense of comfort during that time, and helped in allowing me to rediscover myself and my artistic process. The Art House has always been a place of beginnings for me in the UK. The name ‘Art House’ feels more like ‘Art Home’ for me.”

Barrangi is just one of the many refugees or those seeking asylum in Wakefield, and the wider Yorkshire region, who has been supported by The Art House in its role as the UK’s first Studio of Sanctuary. Since 2017, they have worked with seven professional creative practitioners, many of whom are still supported by the organisation, and countless others who do not have a professional practice but are keen to explore the creative process.

Underlining all of their work is a commitment to supporting those seeking sanctuary to feel welcome in Yorkshire and to empowering diverse communities to find cohesion through shared artistic exploration.

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